Should I drink the Tap Water in Costa Rica?
Probably the first question you ask yourself when arriving in a country if you haven’t already is if the tap water is safe to drink. I tread very lightly on this answer. Getting sick on a one week vacation can cut into valuable time. This is vacation time they have saved up and waited for months or even years for some people. This is why it’s never worth to risk it.
The truth is Costa Rica has clean tap water in most areas. Due to Costa Rica’s very rugged terrain, water can change from one area to the next, and the heavy rains and agriculture can make things challenging. To Costa Rica’s credit, I think they do a fantastic job supplying their citizens with clean water coming out of the tap.
The keyword in that last paragraph was for their citizens! If you are reading this, you most likely are not a citizen or haven’t lived in Costa Rica for an extended time and do not have immunity to the different bacterias in the water of Costa Rica. Chances are 90% of you will be fine drinking the tap water in most places, but that 10% could have the vacation of a lifetime ruined. You could easily be the 10% I have seen happen too often you just don’t know until you feel the tummy rumble sending you high stepping to the nearest toilet. Oh, keep in mind in Costa Rica you can’t throw toilet paper in the toilet so it’s not the ideal country to have Montezuma’s revenge,
Now, back to the topic at hand. Should you drink Costa Rica tap water? I always say to guests it is better to play it safe, which you probably assumed was my answer from the last paragraph. I will let you in on a secret. I say this because if I tell one of our guests the water from the tap is safe and they end up getting sick from something else, then chances are I will get blamed. So my reasoning is to play it safe and just tell each guest to buy bottled water. Basically just telling them to play it safe too.
Can You Get Sick from Tap Water in Costa Rica?
Yes. If you have not been living in Costa Rica for some time, then you might not have immunity to certain bacterias. There are parts of the country that you really should not be drinking the water, including the south pacific, certain parts of the Caribbean, and any rural setting that sources their water downstream from agriculture. But even in safer areas, you run a risk.
This brings us to the famous traveler’s bug. It is important that people understand that it’s not the water that is unclean but the visitor’s tummy that just hasn’t been exposed to certain bacterias. The stress of travel and change in climate both play a factor here. The traveler’s bug or Montezumas revenge can come from the water, salads, or vegetables that have not been cooked. If you get the traveler’s bug, chances are it will last 24 hours and max three days. This isn’t long, but it sure is an eternity when you should be rafting and enjoying paradise. The main bacteria you take in is enterotoxigenic escherichia coli (at least I think based on my research) which has no negative effect on locals assuming they were exposed earlier and built immunity. The nice thing is if you do get exposed like most of us who live in Costa Rica at one point or another have been, then you will have immunity. If they developed a vaccine for these chances are it would be very useful. But for the time being the best option is to just drink bottled water.
In conclusion, while we do not expect anyone to live in a bubble during their vacation, our suggestion would be to not drink from the tap water. Too many people think they might look touristy if they drink bottled water and want to do what the locals do. I wouldn’t be too worried about it. Hugging a toilet for 2 days looks more touristy if you ask me. If you want to gel with the locals do it on a different level and learn some Costa Rica slang!
Tom Loves To Write