From chilled out bars on the beach to clubs featuring world class DJs in San Jose, Costa Rica offers up a huge variety of nightlife activity.
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When to Go Out
Most people go out on Fridays and Saturdays, but there are exceptions when the club or bar hosts a discount night, or especially popular, a ladies night. Costa Ricans love to party!
For example, Monday nights in San Jose, Cuartel de la Boca del Monte is a hot spot. Ladies nights are always guaranteed to be popular because ladies get in for free and are treated to free drinks. Monday night at Casino Fiesta in Alajuela and Wednesday night at the Backyard Bar in Playa Hermosa are always packed with party-goers.
Times vary. Some bars and clubs offer discounted drinks and entrance fees for showing up before 9pm, but the crowd usually doesn’t come out in full until 10 or 11. Closing time varies a lot, too. Some places close around midnight while others stay open until 2am, 4am, or very rarely until dawn.
What to Wear
In Costa Rica, the climate of the city you are in and the type of bar or club you are going to will dictate your nightly attire.
In the hot and humid coastal towns, you will see tourists relaxing at the beach bars in flip flops, tank tops, and shorts, or even bathing suits from their day on the beach.
In San Jose and most of the Central Valley, it gets a lot colder at night, so you will want to put on more clothes. Plus the atmosphere of the bar and clubs are more sophisticated, lending to more formal attire than flip flops and bathing suits.
To fit in with the locals in any town, you will want to dress a lot sharper with a nice top or dress, nice jeans or skirt, and shoes or high heels.
Some clubs require a dress code: usually no hats, no shorts, no tank tops (for men), no pants with holes, and/or no tennis shoes. This is mainly in San Jose where you will find the majority of the upscale bars and clubs.
Costa Ricans mainly go out with groups of friends. The exception is ladies night when a large majority of people go out on their own. The other exception is when Ticos go out with their families to Fiestas Patronales.
Fiestas Patronales are festival-like celebrations of a particular town’s Saint Day.
Costa Ricans dress in their cowboy best and go to these festivals with their families where they enjoy a tope (horse parade) during the day, and toros (Costa Rica’s bull-friendly version of bull fighting), delicious food, games, rides, and a variety of lively Latino music and dancing during the night.
Club vs. Nightclub
Local Tip: It’s important to understand the difference between club and nightclub in Costa Rica. Club = dance club. Nightclub = strip club.
When I first moved to Costa Rica, I would ask about the good nightclubs in town and get a good hearty laugh from the locals. It’s easy for Costa Ricans to assume a girl is mixing up the lingo as there are no male strip clubs in Costa Rica, and a girl seeking to go to a nightclub usually only goes with her boyfriend, so there is no need to ask around.
However, a male tourist asking where the best nightclub is will be immediately pointed towards the strip club, no questions asked. This could complicate your night if you are innocently trying to find a regular dance club.
Everyone dances! You are welcome on the dance floor to try and learn the steps of salsa or merengue, but if you want to show up prepared, take some dance lessons while you are in town.
Types of music commonly heard in Costa Rican bars and clubs are house, hip hop, reggaeton, salsa, merengue, cumbia, and popular rock music from the 80's and 90's.
Karaoke is also wildly popular. In all towns, you can find fun karaoke bars with amateurs or make your way to San Jose to find serious karaoke clubs with professional singers belting out the English and Spanish hits.
It is socially acceptable for guys and girls to ask each other to dance, and it is okay to dance close together. Costa Ricans are very upfront with their intentions and there is no playing hard to get.
Costa Rican Women
Most Costa Rican women are extremely affectionate. If a girl is interested, she will approach you and let her intentions be known.
If you want to get to know a Costa Rican woman better, you must spend at least one night wooing her before you have a chance at getting a phone number. It’s not uncommon too see Costa Rican women greeting their coworkers with a cheek kiss or innocently flirting with men.
The culture in Costa Rica is a lot more affectionate than that of the United States, and beware that flirting is not a green light for serious physical contact. The Costa Rican woman will be absolutely clear about what she wants from a man.
Cheating is common in Costa Rica – among men and women.
Costa Rican Men
Costa Rican men are passionate in all aspects of life, with an abundance of that famous Latino machismo. They can also become extremely jealous, in part due to the affectionate ways of the culture, and history of rampant cheating. They prefer that the woman takes the initiative when asking a guy out or asking him to dance, however this most certainly does not stop them from doing the asking.
Costa Rican men like to talk and gesture wildly with their hands and they are not afraid to stare a woman down. One of the jokes that gets the most laughs here in Costa Rica says that the highest cause of traffic accidents is due to men taking their eyes off the road to look at the pretty women walking down the street – this will cause a pileup!
Despite all the ogling, male chivalry is alive and well in Costa Rica (unless you are on the bus). It’s common to see a man offer a woman his arm if he sees her walking down the street unescorted, and the man is always expected to walk on the side closest to the street as a sign of respect and protection. Men will also open doors for women, hurry to help with packages or bags, etc.
Sex in Costa Rica
The majority of Costa Ricans live with their parents or extended family until they are married. It is not acceptable for them to bring a date home to spend the night, no matter how old they are or whether they are a woman or a man. For couples looking for intimacy, they can go to one of the love motels (moteles) that are prevalent throughout the country.
Always use protection. Condoms are available at all pharmacies and grocery stores (supermercados). They are also sometimes included in the room cost or available for an extra fee at the love motel, but you can’t find them in the bar or club bathrooms. The morning after pill is available at pharmacies. Abortion is illegal unless the mother’s life is in danger.
Events in Costa Rica can be found online here and here.