From chilled out bars on the beach to clubs featuring world class DJs in San José, Costa Rica offers up a huge variety of nightlife activity.
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
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.
By Erin Morris, Go Backpacking