I lived with a host family so I had the chance to experience family life in Costa Rica.
Generally can be said that families are much closer than in Europe. Children
usually live with their parents until they get married and it is not uncommon for a
family to have three or more children.
Costa Rica’ character is very much stamped by tourism and many people make a
living out of the tourists. Most of the tourists come from the United States so it is no
surprise that once people recognize you are not a “Tico”, they immediately call you
“Gringo” (slang word for US-Americans). Many people, especially the young ones,
speak at least basic English and are happy to use it. However, trying to speak
Spanish is definitely an advantage when dealing with the “ticos” and they will be
more interested in where you come from and what your motives for visiting Costa
In general, being a foreign woman in Costa Rica is not always easy. European
woman are still something like a rarity, especially in rural places and the
“machismo” of Costa Rican men definitely takes getting used to. There are, of
course, funny situations (one day we had 10 construction workers sing a love song
to us when we passed them on our way to the bus station), but it can be
unpleasant too. For example, their interest in women may by some be regarded as
stalking and it is also not uncommon for married men to have affairs. This is
condoned by many women.
One issue I also had to get used to was the Catholicism. I am from Eastern
Germany and grew up as an atheist and do not believe in God. I do not resent the
idea of going to church because although I am not religious, I am interested in
finding out more about different religions and regard myself as being open-minded.
Unfortunately for me though, some people I came across in Costa Rica could not
grasp the idea of not believing in God. I never tried to persuade people of my
beliefs but still I was judged for not being religious. So after a few such experiences
I switched to not proclaiming my views on religion. Only with my host mother did I
have some very interesting conversations about religion, politics, culture and
lifestyles in different countries.
Anther important issue in Costa Rica is security. Generally Costa Rica is regarded
as being one of the safest countries in Central America, but this should not be
underestimated. It is crucial to inform oneself which quarters of San José (or the
respective town you live in) should be avoided. After nightfall women should by no
means walk through the city on their own and one should never carry a lot of
money or adornments. Fortunately, Anita and I were never robbed, but in my
immediate surroundings some very scary things happened which have led to my
refusal in ever wanting to live near San José for a longer period of time again.
Some incidents overshadowed the wonderful experiences I had in Costa Rica. I
would always want to go back there on holiday, but living there is a totally different
Travelling in Costa Rica is inexpensive and relatively easy. From San José there
are cheap buses (US$ 3 – 6) to all parts of the country and in every tourist region
one can find cheap bungalows (called “cabinas”) with private bathroom from $5 per
person. Naturally we took advantage of this! A few times we also had the
opportunity to stay in hotels that Amadeus works with for free. We also took the
chance to visit Nicaragua for a few days – an absolutely amazing experience.
Nicaragua is a country in upraise with very little tourism but incredible nature and
friendly people. It is also very poor but without doubt worth a visit.