From chilled-out bars to wild beach parties to dance clubs featuring world-class DJs in the capital city of San Jose, Costa Rica's nightlife offers a variety of experiences.
How to Party in Costa Rica
When to Go Out
Most people go out on Fridays and Saturdays, but there are exceptions when the club or bar hosts special events like a discount night, happy hour, or, especially popular, a ladies' night. Costa Ricans love to party!
For example, on Monday nights in San Jose, Cuartel de la Boca del Monte is a popular spot with a large dance floor just off the main street. It's the perfect place for good times listening to electronic music from the best DJs.
Ladies' nights are always popular because ladies get in for free and receive complimentary drinks.
Monday night at the popular club Casino Fiesta in Alajuela and Wednesday night at the Backyard Bar in Playa Hermosa are always packed with partygoers and have a great atmosphere.
Times vary. Some bars and clubs offer discounted drinks and entrance fees for showing up before 9 p.m., but the crowd usually doesn't come out in full until 10 p.m. or 11 p.m.
Closing time varies a lot, too. Some places close around midnight, while others stay open until the wee hours: 2 a.m., 4 a.m., or 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, tourists relax at the beach bars in flip-flops, tank tops, shorts, or even bathing suits from their day on Costa Rica's beautiful beaches.
San Jose and most of the Central Valley get colder at night, so you will want to wear more clothes.
Plus, the atmosphere of the bar and clubs is more sophisticated, leading to more formal clothes than flip flops and bathing suits.
To fit in with the party scene in any town, you'll want to dress sharper with a nice top or dress, jeans or a skirt, and shoes or high heels.
Some clubs have a dress code: usually no hats, no shorts, no tank tops (for men), no pants with holes, and no tennis shoes. This is mainly in San Jose, where you will find the most upscale bars and clubs.
Costa Ricans mainly go out with groups of friends. The exception is ladies' night, when many people go out independently. The other exception is when Ticos go out with their families to Fiestas Patronales.
Fiestas Patronales are festival-like celebrations of a particular Saint Day in a small town. They're unique to nightlife in Costa Rica and a popular nightlife experience in their own right.
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 bullfighting), great food, cold beer, games, rides, and a variety of live music (particularly Latin music) and dancing at night.
All you need is a few drinks and a plate of good food, and you're sure to have a great time. Fiestas Patronales are a great way to see the center of a town and at its liveliest, with live bands and great music.
Club vs. Nightclub
Local Tip: Understanding the difference between clubs and nightclubs in Costa Rica is essential.
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 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 experience with Costa Rica nightlife if you are innocently trying to find a regular dance club.
Everyone dances! You're 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're 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 '80s and '90s.
Karaoke is also wildly popular. You can find fun bars with a karaoke sound system in all towns, or go to San Jose to find serious karaoke clubs with professional singers belting out 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.
Related: World's Best Places to Sing Karaoke
Costa Rican Women
Most Costa Rican women are incredibly affectionate. If a girl is interested, she'll 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 getting a phone number.
It's not uncommon to see Costa Rican women greeting their coworkers with a cheek kiss or innocently flirting with men.
Costa Rica's culture is much more affectionate than the United States. Beware, flirting is not a green light for serious physical contact. The Costa Rican woman will be 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 highly jealous due, in part, 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 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 men taking their eyes off the road to look at the beautiful 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're on the bus).
It's common to see a man offer a woman his arm if he sees her walking down the street unescorted. Men are also expected to walk on the side closest to the street as a sign of respect and protection.
And men will also open doors for women, hurry to help with packages or bags, etc.
Sex in Costa Rica
Most 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're women or men.
Couples looking for intimacy in the late hours can go to one of the love motels (moteles) prevalent throughout the country. They're typical of Costa Rica nightlife and most of Latin America.
Condoms are available at all pharmacies and grocery stores (supermercados). They're 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.
Last Updated on January 20, 2024 by Dave Lee
Erin quit the 9 to 5 and moved herself and her dog to Costa Rica in early 2010. She has been happily exploring the beautiful biodiversity, country, and culture ever since. She started De La Pura Vida to share her experiences of living and traveling around Costa Rica and Central America. Follow her on Twitter @delapuravida