Day 44: Please pack this when you come to Costa Rica

Every single visitor to Costa Rica must bring a water bottle.

(Or they should be handed one when they go through Immigration. “Welcome! Here’s your bottle and anti-plastic phrasebook. Don’t use plastic. Have a great stay!” I know, I know. I’m working on it.)

If you know someone who is visiting Costa Rica for the first time, please help me spread the word: this country has, among its many assets, potable water just about everywhere. It is also a country in the throes of a battle against single-use plastics, and that struggle needs every tourist to be its ally. If you bring your water bottle and use it every day, you will be joining the good fight. I never understood this until I stepped onto a beach at Corcovado National Park years ago and was handed a garbage bag by my guide so I could pick up the plastic bottles and other debris that had traveled down by river from cities upstream, like mine.

You will be offered plastic bottles of water. Sometimes you might even be handed one without asking. Say no. When you ask for water in a restaurant, ask specifically for “agua del tubo” (tap water) – you’ll save money and your bottle won’t end up on your favorite beach once it makes its way down a river. Say no to straws, too. “Sin pajilla, por favor.” Bring one of those tiny packable shopping bags and stick that in your daypack, too – this is one I still fail to remember when I travel within the country, even after all these years, but you almost always end up needing one.

If you notice plastics being thrown about at a restaurant or hotel, consider letting the management know that an absence of single-use plastics is actually something you look for when you make your choices. It doesn’t need to be a big scene or a negative thing – in fact, I think that works against us – just a smiling comment. That part is up to you, and the situation, but comments from the people who are holding the tourist dollars help move the needle. If you see things being done right, tell them that, too. I so often forget to do that. “You know, I came back for breakfast today because you’re the only place in town that’s not serving plastic straws.”

It’s a movement here that’s gaining momentum, and your advocacy can help that transition happen faster. This really, really matters. Ask the people who are cleaning up the beaches of their hometowns day after day after day.

What else do you do to prep to avoid single use plastics? If you live here, what else do you wish tourists knew? If you’re visiting or have visited, what else do you recommend? I’d love to hear.

I’m a writer in San José, Costa Rica, on a year-long quest to share daily posts on inspiring people, places and ideas from my adopted home as a kind of tonic during a rough time in the world. Sign up (top right of this page) to receive a little dose of inspiration every weekday in your mailbox; tell a friend; check out past posts; and please connect with me on Instagram or Facebook! You can also find me churning out small, square poems on any topic under the sun (here on the site, on Instagram or Twitter). 

6 comments

  1. In addition to water bottles, I usually ask my group travelers to bring a cloth bag (one that folds up easily and takes almost no room in the suitcase). Sometimes I give such a bag as a “Welcome to Costa Rica” gift. It’s great to use when shopping in a market and/or for gifts to take back home.

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    1. I think hotels should do this widely… very cheap and as I said, I often forget to bring that on trips even though I should know better by now! I keep them in the car for the supermarket but don’t always remember to take some to the beach. I’m glad you give it to your folks!

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  2. I do appreciate the supermarkets (AutoMercado, PriceSmart) that offer boxes instead of plastic bags. As a bonus, those boxes are of great interest to our cat!

    I remember back in the day when sodas would be served in glass bottles that you had to drink right at the pulpería and return. Although if you wanted it to go, they poured it in a plastic baggie with a straw … not any better.

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    1. Me, too – when I was an intern at La Nación, I had my mini glass Coke bottles from the pulpería lined up at my desk (not quite sure to recycle them) until the pulpera one day was like, “Lady, you need to bring me back my bottles!” Such a good system.

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