Visitors to this country are often mystified by the seemingly universal rule that you can’t flush toilet paper in Costa Rica. Typically, they learn of this from a sign on a bathroom wall instructing them to place toilet paper in the trash can and not in the toilet.
At the risk of being indelicate, bathroom etiquette in Costa Rica, particularly in homes, involves discarding the most, shall we say, discolored sheets down the toilet. The rest should go in the bin. After a while, this becomes automatic, but not everyone is inclined to embrace the practice.
This heads up – pun intended – is an alert that learning proper toilet etiquette in Costa Rica can save you from an embarrassing bathroom emergency. Many long-term residents like myself have adjusted so well to this rule that when we return to the United States, we automatically toss rather than flush.
Bathroom etiquette around the world
Spanning the globe, toilet facilities and hygiene customs vary widely. Washing rather than wiping is engrained for many citizens of our planet. About two-thirds of the world squat rather than sit. As for toilet paper, seasoned world travelers know to bring their own wipes or tissues on trips.
What would seem to be a simple bodily function is elevated to high tech in Japan, where commodes can resemble an airplane cockpit. African countries offer a hole in the ground, and, as I once experienced, may include an audience of curious Maasai. Most of India relies on a bucket and water. In Islamic countries, the right hand is noble, so it is assigned for eating while the left is for wiping. From birth, Muslims learn to not ever mix the two. Paris now has open-air urinals to discourage public urination. Lavatories in China are called squat toilets, which describes the action needed.
A trip to Argentina (a country that imagines itself to be European) provides an introduction to the bidet. Bidets supplement (or replace) toilet paper by supplying pressurized water for cleaning. In French, bidet means pony, evoking an image of how you use the damned thing. Some research reveals that bidets can have multiple purposes, including foot washing and bathing babies. While I pride myself on adjusting to Costa Rican latrine habits, the bidet is outside my comfort zone. I’m just fine with tossing the T.P. in the wastebasket.
Commercially packaged toilet paper is a relatively new advancement. Until it was deemed a necessity with the introduction of indoor plumbing in the 20th century, folks took hay, wool, Sears and Roebuck catalog pages or even corn cobs to the outhouse. In the ‘30s, some brands of toilet paper boasted that they were splinter-free.
Toilet paper is so ingrained in American culture that an entire Seinfeld show was based on a dilemma of running out of it in a public restroom. In a classic episode, the character Elaine asks someone in the next stall if she can “spare a square.” The woman refuses, leading to an argument about how and why loaning even one ply should or should not be a kindness among strangers.
Today, toilet paper in the United States is a $31 billion consumer-driven industry. Scott Paper Company and Charmin vie for the softest, most hygienic and most ecological brand. The success of their efforts was evidenced by the scarcity of toilet paper in the early days of the pandemic. It is estimated that each North American uses 140 rolls of toilet paper annually.
What can I use instead of toilet paper?
For anyone turning up their nose at the non-flushing prospect when visiting Costa Rica, there is an alternative. Pack a few rolls of toilet paper made of biodegradable bamboo, a sustainable product that won’t clog the plumbing. This septic-safe option can be purchased online.
Note that Central and South American bathrooms in bus stations and in public buildings often require payment. These facilities request a nominal fee, perhaps 100 colones in Costa Rica. In return, you get a wad of toilet paper that the attendant cordially hands you as if you’d won the lottery.
The toilets often appear to date back to Costa Rica’s independence in 1821. It is recommended that you close your eyes, hold your nose and quickly accomplish your mission.
Chief Seattle is credited with saying, “Take only memories. Leave only footprints.” The quote, written in Spanish, appears in the entrance of various Costa Rican beaches and national parks.
When facing the prospect of to flush or not to flush in Costa Rica, one can either apply the chief’s wise words or bring along a roll of bamboo paper.
Special Places is located within the beautiful coastal resort town of Flamingo, in the province of Guanacaste, Costa Rica. With over 15 years of service dedicated to the rental and property management profession, we have an extensive list of rentals in the Flamingo, Potrero, Brasilito and Tamarindo Beach area. Whether looking to plan your next tropical vacation or searching for someone to manage your home, our goal is to provide our clients with the most efficient and personable service in the area.
** In accordance with public health recommendations, Special Places continues to work hard to keep our guests safe. These protocols include enhanced cleaning and disinfection procedures for all properties under management **
We are very proud of our professional maid service staff, who provide regular cleaning for some 150 properties — and do it with a smile. A half-dozen maids provide full-time service at a single house, but all the rest rotate among a wide variety of properties from Matapalo to Playa del Coco.
Maids are responsible not just for cleaning but for staging the house, with everything in its proper place, and keeping track of inventory (so that, for example, new clients don’t check in and find there’s no toilet paper). At times, say on Jan. 2, there are so many checkouts and check-ins that the maids bring their sisters, brothers and mothers to get all the work done.
Full-time maids assigned to a single property assist clients with shopping, cooking and laundry, and they often form close bonds with clients. It’s no surprise that our clients often want to take their maids home with them.
Special Places of Costa Rica employs two full-time maintenance men who service all our properties, plus a handful of caretakers dedicated to a single property each.
These men will fix just about any problem that arises — leaks, electrical and plumbing issues, a door that scrapes on a floor, a noisy ceiling fan… you name it. They also paint homes and provide roofing maintenance.
Our maintenance staff are available 24/7 for emergencies like a burst pipe that causes a flood. Special Places of Costa Rica also enjoys a network of qualified subcontractors to handle swimming pool service, gardening / landscaping and repairs to air conditioning units & kitchen appliances.
Steven, from Potrero, is a rental agent for Special Places. He processes rental inquiries, checks on property availability, makes reservations and helps with check-in and check-out info.
Steven has worked at three hotels: as a bellman at Casa Chameleon in Las Catalinas, as a receptionist in the Sugar Beach Hotel near there, and as a receptionist at Jardín del Edén in Tamarindo. He has a bachelor’s degree in teaching English from the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz, and someday he hopes to teach English at his old high school in Cartagena.
Steven likes to ride his Kawasaki 250 dirt bike in the Potrero Hills, around Las Catalinas and in Tempate. He’s also interested in cars and mechanics, and he’s skilled at repairing motorcycles.
Quote: “I think work is a very important tool that helps us to fulfill ourselves as human beings in life and to improve on what we already know.”
Born in Samar Province in the Philippines, Phem has a two-year degree in computer science from the Asian Institute of Computer Studies. She came to Costa Rica at age 19 to work for her aunt, who owned the Mariner Inn in Flamingo. She later worked for House of Rentals, then Special Places of Costa Rica when the companies merged. As a concierge, she books tours, rental cars, chefs or whatever clients need to make their stay enjoyable. “Whatever they request, you do it,” she said.
She enjoys “having a connection to people, meeting different people, helping people.” Her proudest accomplishment was moving from the Philippines to Costa Rica to explore better opportunities. She recommends that visitors to Flamingo try an ATV tour, a catamaran cruise, rappelling or whitewater rafting.
Quote: “I love Potrero. I live in Surfside. It’s quiet, safe, and people there are very accommodating, nice, friendly, always willing to help you. They’re open to anyone. I like that community. And the bars are within walking distance.”
Pascale, Kenny’s mother and business partner, is the head accountant at Special Places. She is responsible for all the accounting, billing and taxes, managing the maid service, setting work schedules and procuring cleaning products.
Pascale is from Antwerp, Belgium, where she and her husband had a food-service business specializing in poultry. But they often traveled to the Caribbean and Central America, and in 2009 decided to move to Costa Rica.
“We thought it was time to follow some dreams, so we sold the business and came to Costa Rica,” she said. They traveled to every corner of the country, but they fell in love with Guanacaste and decided to settle in Flamingo. They couldn’t find a house that satisfied Pascale’s handyman husband, so they built their own on the hills above Potrero in Pacific Heights.
She says her proudest accomplishment is “bringing two beautiful sons into the world.”
Quote: “The way we raised them, they were very independent. We taught them to work also. Of course, school came first. To us it’s white and black, and the gray doesn’t exist. It’s good or bad.”
Norlyng coordinates the maintenance of all Special Places properties, and she’s also in charge of Human Relations and is an assistant to Kenny Segers.
Born in Limón but a longtime resident of Matapalo, she previously worked as a receptionist at the Best Western Seis Playas Hotel. She also spent six years at the Wyndham Tamarindo, working as head of reception and as an administrative assistant.
Norlyng studied law for a year and a half at the University of Costa Rica in Liberia, but currently she is more focused on tourism. She is married and has two daughters, ages 9 and 2. Her interests include reading (the Bible, inspirational works and finance) and going to relaxing places.
Quote: “My philosophy of life is to live in the present and try not to worry about the future, to have clear objectives, to try not to stress too much and to act in the present.”
A native of Brasilito, Karolayn has a bachelor’s degree in accounting from the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz. She is responsible for the billing, accounting and filing at Special Places.
She enjoys hiking and swimming, and her favorite local places are Playa Danta and Playa Conchal. Asked what activity she would recommend to visitors, she said riding a Banana Boat, an inflatable, banana-shaped boat towed behind a speedboat.
Quote: “The working environment here is very nice, very tranquilo. We get along really well, the management, the coworkers, and also the maids and maintenance people. Also, in my job I’ve learned a lot of things that in university classes they don’t teach. It gives you the opportunity to learn and grow.”
A native of Antwerp, Belgium, Kenny emigrated to Costa Rica in 2008. Having graduated from high school in Belgium, he studied economics and business administration in Costa Rica. Eager to go into business, Kenny left university to work as a property manager for House of Rentals in Flamingo, which he acquired not long after starting the job. House of Rentals grew into Special Places of Costa Rica, currently represented by offices in Playa Flamingo and Playas del Coco, and known as one of the leading agencies in the area.
Kenny speaks and writes fluent Spanish, English and Dutch. He is the proud father of a Costa Rican son, Khael, who was born in 2016.
Passionate about his growing vacation rental and management business, Kenny is always looking for investments and opportunities. Hotel Pitaya Lodge (formerly Kakaos Lodge) is also under his management.
In 2020, he began building the first of several homes as part of a newly launched project development/construction company.
Juan Carlos works as a rental agent, attending to any questions about renting a property, explaining the options available, answering any questions and supporting the concierge team in extra services like tours or transport.
Juan Carlos was born in San José and currently lives in Potrero. He has worked for some 15 years in sales or customer service at hotels, including the Hotel Barceló in San José, the Hotel Parador in Manuel Antonio and the Lagarta Lodge in Nosara.
He also studied English at the Instituto Norteamericano in San José, earning a C2 certification in English. He has also taken several courses in administration.
Juan Carlos likes walking on the beach (“so I’m definitely in the right place”) with his French bulldog. “They’re very mischievous but very sweet, very good company.”
Quote: “I always say, ‘It costs nothing to smile.’ I always like to convey that people should be happy no matter what.”
Juan Diego, who was born and raised in Villarreal, works as a concierge. That means he helps visitors arrange tours and transportation, rental cars, airport pickup and dropoff, and other services.
Juan Diego studied sustainable tourism management at UNED, the Universidad Estatal a Distancia, where he received a bachelor’s degree in 2013. He has worked as an admin for the Dream Chaser catamaran in Tamarindo, as a receptionist at the Hotel Pasatiempo in Tamarindo, and as a concierge at the Hotel Dreams Las Mareas in El Jobo.
Juan Diego enjoys watching HBO series and movies, riding his bike, going out with friends and watching the sunset on the beach.
Quote: “I like concierge work because I get to help a lot of people, fulfilling the dreams of tourists who visit a beautiful country like Costa Rica that’s full of nature.”
José does property inspections, check-ins and check-outs for Special Places, making sure that properties are in great shape for new clients.
Born in Limón, he currently lives in Cartagena. He went to high school at Liceo Experimental Bilingüe de Santa Cruz, and he spent seven years working as a waiter and bartender at the JW Marriotts in Hacienda Pinilla and Reserva Conchal.
He enjoys going to the beach, listening to music, watching movies and series, playing video games and spending time with family.
Quote: “If you’re afraid of dying, it’s better not to be born.”
A native of Nicoya who lives in Cartagena, Jhon works in accounting at Special Places, calculating reservation contracts, sales commissions and billing. He has been studying accounting at the Universidad Latina in Santa Cruz for a year and a half.
His goal is to have an accounting firm of his own. His favorite hobby is artisanal fishing, usually from a boat out of Flamingo, and he once caught a 70-pound mahi-mahi. He also has caught marlin in Tamarindo and Quepos.
His greatest pride is a nearly 2-year-old daughter named Elizabeth Aitana.
Quote: “I think the most marvelous thing that’s happened to me would be the birth of my daughter. That’s the thing I’m most proud of.”
Jason is a concierge and rental specialist with an interesting job — knocking on new clients’ doors to see if they need anything or would like to book any tours or other services.
Born in Limón and currently living in Huacas, Jason speaks flawless English. He has taken some university courses on websites and social media marketing. He is married, no kids, but has a cat named Kirara.
Jason previously worked as a database analyst at Western Union in San José, typically addressing charge-backs on credit cards and resolving other monetary issues.
Jason loves “adrenaline,” muddy offroad adventures, motorcycling, ATV, video games, surfing and skateboarding.
Quote: “You don’t have to be the smartest person to fulfill your dreams, all you need is to put in a little effort and be certain that you will achieve whatever you set your mind to.”
Gabriel joined Special Places as an accounting assistant at the age of 20. He was born in Liberia and currently lives in Filadelfia with his family.
He studied at the Colegio Técnico Profesional de Carrillo, with a specialty in accounting and auditing. He worked previously as an accounting assistant and secretary for a clinic in Palestina de Belén that serves disabled people.
Gabriel enjoys mountain biking, and for the past eight years he has volunteered at the Red Cross in Filadelfia, working mostly in strategic communication.
Quote: “We never have to give up on a dream just because of the time it takes to achieve it.”
Daniela works as an administrative assistant in Human Resources, helping with payroll, health benefits and insurance, as well as onboarding new personnel.
Born in Liberia, she now lives in Villarreal, and she not only has two dogs but also a horse. She adores animals and loves to go horseback riding in the country. She also likes listening to Latin music like cumbia and salsa.
Daniela has a bachelor’s degree in business administration from the Universidad Libre de Costa Rica (ULICORI). Before coming to Special Places, she worked as an HR assistant at the Occidental Hotel in Tamarindo, where she learned a lot about Human Resources in a real-world environment.
Quote: “Take risks, because everything good starts with a little fear!”
Carla works as an accounting assistant at Special Places and is also involved in property management.
She was born in Caracas, Venezuela, and raised in Ciudad Guayana, where she earned a law and accountant degree and worked as a lawyer and accountant. Since coming to Costa Rica, she has worked as a manicurist, masseuse, bartender, waitress and artist.
A gifted artist and something of a Renaissance woman, Carla also draws and makes earrings, necklaces, and bracelets. Her varied interests include dancing, hiking, scuba diving, traveling and discovering new cultures.
Quote: “My motto is ‘I know that I own the weak and fragile body of a woman, but I have the heart and stomach of a king.’ ”
This property is not managed by Special Places of Costa Rica.
Accordingly, rental rates and availability for this property might not be current. Please submit an inquiry and will be be happy to verify the details and assist you with your booking.
I think the theory also needs to be considered in the type of tp as special water biodegradable tp breakdown as soon as water touched it
Ugh. This is a sociopathic attitude, dude. I am not saying you, Jacque, are a sociopath, but this is narcissistic and rather ugly of you…and one of the reasons people hate tourists. Please stay home until you’ve repaired your broken moral compass.
I’m a tourist.
I will flush all my paper
By the time it’s blocked, I’ll be long gone
If you ever had to clean out a septic system clogged by toilet paper (hint: YUCK), you would understand why this rule is widely in effect in Costa Rica. We hope you will rethink your position on this and not force property owners to perform this expensive and disgusting chore just because you insist on flushing TP. When in Rome….