Drinking 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. The same is true on the topic of drinking water in Costa Rica.
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 risking it, and always best to ask if you should be drinking water in Costa Rica.
Costa Rica Water 101
The truth is Costa Rica has clean tap water in most areas. Compared to many other parts of the world, drinking water in Costa Rica is not a big concern.
Due to Costa Rica’s very rugged terrain, water can change from one area to the next. The heavy rains and agriculture can make things challenging also.
To Costa Rica’s credit, I think they do a fantastic job supplying their citizens with clean water coming out of the tap.
We have been running our adventure company and ecolodge for over 15 years. During this time, none of our staff has ever really been sick due to drinking water. With this said, we still bring water to the lodge for our guests to drink.
We also do a yearly test of the water that we source our water from at the lodge. It has always come out as clean as it can be.
So why do we still bring in treated water? First of all, it’s to give our guests the option and not make them feel like they are forced into drinking the tap water. The second reason is just playing it safe as most of our guests are foreigners and not Costa Rica, citizens.
Are You Local?
The keyword in that last paragraph was for their citizens! If you are reading this, you most likely are not a citizen. Nor haven’t lived in Costa Rica for an extended time and do not have immunity to the different bacterias in Costa Rica’s water.
Chances are 98% of you will be fine drinking the tap water in most places. The other 2% could have the adventure of a lifetime ruined.
You could easily be the 2% I have seen happen too often; you 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.
So Should I Drink the Water?
We always say to guests it is better to play it safe when drinking water in Costa Rica, which you probably assumed was my answer from the last paragraph. It’s better to say this because if we tell one of our guests the water from the tap is safe and they end up getting sick from something else, then chances are we will get blamed.
When I travel outside of Costa Rica on different adventures, I’m always looking to play it safe. Does it always happen? No. Adventure trips can have you drinking anywhere and everywhere, and you have to use your best judgment. If you have been on several adventure trips and have drunk your fair share of foreign water, chances are you will do fine. Especially compared to the person that is leaving the suburbs of New York for their first trip internationally.
Please don’t get me wrong; you are still taking a small risk.
Can You Get Sick from Tap Water in Costa Rica?
Yes. If you have not been living in Costa Rica for some time, you might not have immunity to certain bacterias.
There are parts of the country that you really should not be drinking the water. These areas include the south pacific, certain parts of the Caribbean, and any rural setting that sources its water downstream from agriculture.
But even in safer areas, you run a risk. These areas with the highest risk of water you might get sick from and the areas that are the farthest away from your modern hospitals. It is nice to be close to if you were to get dehydrated from getting sick from the water.
People must understand that it’s not unclean’s water 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 a max of 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). This has no negative effect on locals assuming they were exposed earlier and built immunity.
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 beneficial. But for the time being, the best option is to drink bottled water.
How to Prepare
First, you want to connect with the company you will be traveling with. On our adventure trips, we always have purified water available for our guests. It might not be individual plastic bottles, but you can fill up your water bottle with the tanks of purified water we supply.
In other instances, you might be traveling alone, and the simplest method is to buy bottled water. This can, of course, add to your daily expenses, so you do have the option of drinking tap water and still playing it safe. There are many bottles on the market now that come with filters.
Along with these filters, because you never really know their efficiency, it never hurts to drop an Aguatab in your bottle. These are small purification tablets that you can buy off amazon and have in your day pack. Aguatab kills the micro-organisms that your system might not be ready for. This is totally speculative, but I have yet to see someone get the traveler’s bug using Aguatabs. I am slightly less hesitant to say the same for someone who just used the filter because there are so many out there that you never know what you are getting.
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 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!