Understanding Costa Rican Customs: A Guide for Respectful Travel

Understanding Costa Rican Customs: A Guide for Respectful Travel

Essential Etiquette for Travelers: Navigating Costa Rican Customs and Traditions
Learn key tips for respecting local customs in Costa Rica. From dress codes to environmental etiquette, discover how to navigate this vibrant culture with ease.

Costa Rica customs, Costa Rican etiquette, travel tips Costa Rica, Costa Rica dress code, respecting Costa Rican culture, Costa Rican traditions, Costa Rica travel advice

Learning Center > Costa Rica FAQ


Costa Rica, a gem of Central America, captivates visitors with its stunning beaches, rich culture, and warm hospitality. As you embark on your Costa Rican adventure, understanding and respecting local customs is crucial to enhancing your travel experience and fostering positive interactions with the locals. This guide provides comprehensive insights into key aspects of Costa Rican etiquette, ensuring your visit is enjoyable and respectful.

1. Embrace Modesty: Respecting Local Dress Codes

Costa Rica, while relaxed in its coastal areas, maintains conservative values, particularly in rural regions and religious sites. Here’s how to dress appropriately:

  • Religious Sites: Wear clothing that covers shoulders and knees. Opt for modest attire such as long skirts or trousers and avoid sleeveless tops.

  • Rural Areas: Dress conservatively, avoiding revealing outfits and offensive slogans or images on clothing.

  • Beaches and Resorts: Swimwear is acceptable on beaches and resort areas, but cover up when leaving these areas.

2. Public Displays of Affection: Maintaining Decorum

Costa Ricans, known as "Ticos," are generally affectionate but prefer subtlety in public displays of affection (PDA). Follow these guidelines to show respect:

  • Acceptable PDA: Holding hands and light kisses are typically acceptable.

  • Avoid Explicit PDA: Refrain from more intimate displays, especially in conservative or rural areas, to respect local sensibilities.

3. Culinary Etiquette: Enjoying Costa Rican Hospitality

Dining in Costa Rica is a delightful experience, and observing local customs can enhance your enjoyment:

  • Gratitude with Every Sip: It’s customary to say "gracias" (thank you) after sipping a drink, acknowledging the host’s hospitality.

  • Finish Your Plate: Leaving food on your plate is considered impolite, as it implies dissatisfaction with the meal. Aim to serve yourself portions you can finish.

  • Sharing Meals: Accepting food from locals is a gesture of friendship. Politely accept small offerings to show appreciation.

4. Personal Space and Touch: Observing Boundaries

Respect for personal space is paramount in Costa Rican culture. Here’s how to navigate social interactions:

  • Ask Before Touching: Always seek permission before touching someone, including friendly gestures like handshakes or pats on the back.

  • Greetings: A light handshake or a cheek kiss (right cheek) is a common greeting among friends.

5. Environmental Stewardship: Preserving Natural Beauty

Costa Rica’s commitment to eco-tourism and environmental conservation is globally renowned. Travelers should adhere to these practices:

  • No Littering: Always dispose of waste properly and participate in recycling efforts where available.

  • Respect Wildlife: Observe animals from a distance, avoiding feeding or disturbing them.

  • Sustainable Practices: Conserve water and energy, and support eco-friendly accommodations and tours.

6. Religious Sensitivity: Honoring Local Beliefs

With a strong Catholic influence, Costa Rica’s religious customs are deeply respected. Visitors should be mindful of the following:

  • Appropriate Dress: Wear modest clothing when visiting churches or attending religious events.

  • Photography Etiquette: Avoid taking photos during religious services or ceremonies to respect the sanctity of these occasions.

7. Additional Do’s and Don’ts: Deepening Cultural Understanding

For a richer cultural experience, consider these additional tips:

  • Do Greet with a Smile: Ticos are known for their friendliness. A warm smile and a greeting like "hola" or "buenos días" go a long way.

  • Don’t Rush Conversations: Take time to engage in small talk, as Costa Ricans value friendly, unhurried interactions.

  • Do Learn Basic Spanish: Knowing a few phrases in Spanish shows respect and enhances communication.


By embracing these customs and showing genuine respect for Costa Rican traditions, you’ll not only enhance your travel experience but also build meaningful connections with the locals. Costa Rica’s vibrant culture and stunning landscapes await your exploration, enriched by your mindful approach to its cherished customs. For further insights and personalized travel advice, explore our expanded do’s and don’ts section and embark on a journey that honors the essence of Costa Rica.

View even more of expanded do's and don't's to understand more of the Costa Rican lifestyle.

More about Costa Rica, custom trips and ready-to-book experiences.