What is the Legal Drinking Age in Costa Rica?
The legal minimum drinking age in Costa Rica is 18 years old. However, enforcement is not necessarily strict, especially in tourist areas.
Other Costa Rica Liquor Laws
In 2012, then-President Laura Chinchilla signed into effect la Ley de Regulación y Comercialización de bebidas con contenido alcohólico N° 9047, roughly translates to the Regulation and Commercialization of Alcoholic Beverages Act. This new law, technically made it illegal to drink in public areas such as streets, parks, beaches, and sidewalks.
Despite this law, it is common for visitors to drink beer and other alcoholic beverages on the beaches of Costa Rica. The enforcement of laws regarding alcohol consumption is often left to the discretion of police officers, who usually (but not always) opt to be lenient unless someone is acting dangerously.
While in the United States, alcoholic laws tend to be more puritanical, Costa Ricans seem to take a more common-sense approach.
Peaceful party-goers who don’t cause trouble, don’t consume alcohol ostentatiously, and behave respectfully toward other people normally don’t have to worry about getting into trouble while drinking alcohol on the beach or other tourist-oriented area. But, if there is a conflict or a public disturbance, and the police catch you drinking in public, you could be detained and fined 180,000 colones, which is about $300 USD.
In previous years, drinking while driving was a big problem. And it’s still legal to drive while drinking alcohol, but if your blood alcohol level is over the legal limit then you could lose your automobile to public auction and face a stiff fine and detention. It’s best not to do it.
How to Get Alcohol in Costa Rica
Liquor, wine, and beer are available for sale seven days per week. In some areas, you can’t buy alcohol during Holy Week (Semana Santa) leading up to Easter, but that is becoming a rarer Costa Rica alcohol law.
Grocery stores, convenience stores, and liquor stores (called licoreras) sell alcoholic beverages. You can also buy liquor at the duty-free store in the airports.
Of course, bars and restaurants offer liquor and beer by the drink.
There are a wide variety of bars and clubs in Costa Rica, including discotheques and sports bars. Some neighborhood watering holes close as early as 9 pm. Others stay open until midnight, 2 am, or even 4 am, in the case of dance clubs.
Be aware that the term night club in Costa Rica refers exclusively to an adult-entertainment establishment.
Popular domestic beers include various varieties of Imperial, including a new low-carb brew called Imperial Ultra. Bavaria, Pilsen, Rock Ice, and Bohemia. You can even get a low alcohol beer, called Kaiser.
There is also a burgeoning craft beer scene and a well-attended annual festival.
While craft beer is available throughout the country, at finer establishments, my favorite place to sample is the Costa Rica Beer Factory in Barrio Escalante, San José.
The national liquor of Costa Rica is called Cacique. It’s a type of spirit known as guaro, which is made from sugarcane. Unlike other sugarcane-based spirits such as rum, Cacique has a neutral taste, much like vodka or Everclear. While, in my experience, it tastes like strong liquor, it’s only a moderate 60 proof or 30% alcohol.
Among ticos, Cacique is often called Las Cuatro Plumas, referencing the four feathers adorning the head of the figure on the label.
If you like rum, I’d recommend that you try Flor de Caña. It comes from neighboring Nicaragua and is easily found throughout Costa Rica for a value price.
No matter where you decide to drink, stay safe, and remember moderation.