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Alcohol Consumption in Costa Rica

According to the La Nacion Costa Ricans consume 184 million liters (736 million quarts) of beer yearly

Individually, Costa Ricans consumed an average of 10.5 liters of pure alcohol per year, which was 26th out of 33 countries. Heavy drinking rates ranked Costa Rica 16th in the region. Only soda pop is consumed more than beer in Costa Rica.

As many ticos say, “We have a very deeply-rooted guaro (drinking) culture.” This really comes as little surprise since drinking establishments are found on what seems to be almost every street corner. The nation’s main beer company, La Cervecería de Costa Rica, sponsors concerts and many other events all in the name of promoting the consumption of alcohol.

At times it seems like a river of beer (birra in slang) flows freely at the events like the yearly Palmares and Zapote festivals and even during Easter Week. To further encouraging drinking here, there are now Oktoberfest celebrations.

As if we didn’t have enough local brands of beer like Imperial, Bavaria and Plisen, craft beers also flourish.  Imports from countries like the U.S. Mexico and Europe also contribute to an abundance of this product.

May 20th is International Drunk’s Day (El Día Internacional del Borracho) which is widely celebrated in some circles here. “Nunca falta un borracho en una vela,” is a popular Costa Rican expression that epitomizes this country’s Guaro culture.

Simply put, this phrase implies that at almost any celebration including baptisms, carnivals, weddings, family events and even funerals and wakes, alcohol is widely consumed. It seems that there is always someone who is hasta el culo, I.e. very drunk.

Although prohibited by law, some individuals even think of ingenious ways (se las ingenia) to smuggle liquor into the country’s stadiums to watch soccer matches.

Adding to the problem, there are also “mega-fiestas” among high school and college students which foster binge drinking. Authorities of the Institute on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence (IAFA) in Costa Rica, have warned families about high alcohol consumption by youth at these so-called “mega-parties” parties around the country.

According to the first results of the study about the patterns of consumption of alcoholic beverages in Latin American minors around thirty percent of Costa Rican children begin consuming alcohol before the age of 13.

Alcohol consumption is also a serious problem among some expat retirees in Costa Rica. Over the years I have witnessed a number of retired expats drink themselves to death due to boredom or loneliness. For the first time in their lives, retirees find themselves with a lot of spare time on their hands and do not know what to do with it, so many spend the day drinking.

In Costa Rica the solution is simple —stay busy! The country offers 100’s of activities from which to choose in order to stay occupied and happy, so boredom should not pose a problem. Meeting people is easy if one makes an effort. I have lost count of the number of times that I heard expats utter this phrase, “I have more friends and acquaintances here than I ever had back home.” So, by staying active expats are less likely to fall prey to alcoholism.

The good news is that despite being a beer-loving country, Costa Rica only has an alcohol dependence rate of only 3.1 percent. For comparison, the U.S. has a rate of 4.7 percent and many other countries in Latin America have a higher rate. So do not assume that every Costa Rican or expat has a drinking problem.

About the Author

Christopher Howard Costa Rica’s foremost relocation expert and has been conducting monthly relocation/retirement tours to Costa Rica for over 30 years. See He is also the author of the one- of-a-kind bestselling, New Golden Door to Retirement and Living in Costa Rica — the official guide to relocation and “Guide to Costa Rican Spanish,” that may be purchased through or

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