Common Misconceptions about Costa Rica
When you move to Costa Rica, you'll field lots of questions from well-meaning friends and family. What is life like? What do you eat? Do you have cable TV? You may also hear a few misconceptions about life here, but a quick fact-check can set straight any myths and shine light on the reality of life in Costa Rica.
Myth: Costa Rica is an island. In South America.
Reality: In fact, Costa Rica is a landlocked country in Central America, situated between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south.
Myth: It's a third world country!
Reality: Costa Rica is a developing nation, and bears almost no resemblance to the stereotype of a third world country. Homes are built to earthquake-resistant standards; almost every Costa Rican has a cell phone; the democratic government been in place – and stable – for more than 60 years; and the country's medical system is one of the world's best.
Myth: Costa Rica is dirt cheap.
Reality: You can find bargains here, especially on labor (for example, housekeepers cost about $2 per hour), but you can't live in luxury on $500/month. For simple living, a safe budget is $1,200 per month; $1,500 affords a few extras, and you can live very well on $2,000 monthly.
Myth: It's hot and sunny year-round.
Reality: There are two distinct seasons in Costa Rica: rainy and dry. The rainy season, which Costa Ricans call the winter, runs from May through November, and is characterized by sunny mornings and wet afternoons. The dry season (December-April) is very sunny, and rain is uncommon. Throughout the year, temperatures depend heavily on your location – coastal areas are warm, often 80-90º F during the day, but the mountains can get chilly. For example, temperatures in the Cerro de la Muerte mountains often dip to the low 40's or high 30's at night.
Myth: The health care system is substandard.
Reality: Costa Rica's inexpensive public medical system provides excellent care and, combined with private health care, ranks among the world's best. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) ranks Costa Rica's health care as 36 in the world – better than the United States (#37) and New Zealand (#41).
Myth: You can't drink the water.
Reality: Oh yes, you can! Costa Rica's water is almost universally potable. The only exceptions are in some very remote villages and national parks. Anywhere the water is not drinkable, there should be signs declaring "Agua no potable," but if in doubt, just ask, "Puedo tomar el agua?"
Myth: Costa Rica has terrible roads.
Reality: The country's roads won't win any awards, but they're far from horrible. Rural areas have plenty of dirt and gravel roads, but they're usually maintained well enough to be passable during all but the heaviest rains. Potholes pop up every rainy season, but they're usually fixed for the dry season. Costa Rica also has great roads, like the new Caldera highway, which gets you from San Jose to the Pacific Ocean in just an hour.
Myth: I can only find high-speed Internet, cable TV, and other amenities in the big cities and/or the Central Valley.
Reality: High-speed Internet is becoming more common throughout Costa Rica, especially with the advent of 3G and now 4G cell phone service, which also provide Internet connections and data transfer. Likewise, many cities and towns have cable television and in those that do not, satellite television is universally available.
Myth: The food is spicy.
Reality: Costa Rican food is decidedly mild, with an emphasis on savory herbs and spices. Garlic, cilantro, and sweet pepper are mainstays in local cuisine, but hot peppers rarely make an appearance. If you want to add some kick, look for chilero hot sauce, a medium-spice pepper sauce that is more flavorful than Tabasco.
Myth: Monkeys will be your neighbors.
Reality: This is only partly fictitious. Costa Rica's diverse wildlife is everywhere – even urban San Jose has parrots. However, monkeys and other large animals, like sloths, stick to more secluded, quiet environs. Coastal towns are a great choice if you want monkeys as your neighbors.