Don’t cross that line. As long as you stay on the patio you’re fine but if you step off into the public sand you could be facing a fine of almost $400.
Looking forward to relaxing with a beer on the beach?
A few years ago Costa Rica passed legislation making it illegal to drink in public except at municipally sponsored and licensed fairs and other events. If you’re caught the fine is stiff (¢180,000 or $360), and don’t think you’ll get away with just ignoring the ticket because airport immigration authorities will prevent you from leaving until the citation is paid (same with traffic tickets).
Discretion is Advised
There are plenty of little bars and food stands on most Costa Rican beaches so pull up a chair, tilt the umbrella to keep the sun out of your eyes and let someone wait on you while you enjoy a cold beer or exotic cocktail within the legal confines of a licensed establishment.
Visitors from the U.S. are used to “open container” laws and probably a certain style of flexible enforcement. If you’re minding your own business and not otherwise causing a disturbance it’s highly unlikely the police will notice you’re enjoying a beer with your brats at the BBQ in the park. If they do point out it’s not allowed they’ll most likely just ask that you dump it and put the cooler in the car.
Laws to control drinking alcohol in Costa Rica are widely flouted and you may see a Tico dribbling a soccer ball towards a goal erected in the sand with a beer firmly in hand (what did you think your hands were for in soccer).
There’s flexible enforcement in Costa Rica too, but unfortunately that might mean as a tourist you’re a target for collecting a bribe. Stay away from roads and parking lots (the cops don’t like to walk out onto the beach), keep a low profile and don’t be an obnoxious drunk – you should be okay.
Historically, Drinking Laws Have Been Ignored
Enforcement of dry laws prohibiting the sale or consumption of alcohol in Costa Rica (including inside bars and restaurants) during public events such as elections, over Easter holy week and on independence day has always been relaxed in tourist areas.
A few years ago an “all inclusive” resort that shall remain nameless tried to use implementation of the dry week law as an excuse to cut off its guests. It didn’t go well when tourists found out that the one thing they’d been planning on including enthusiastically was off limits. Needless to say the policy was reversed.
In 2012 the federal government gave up and changed the law to include a clause that actually permitted local cantons to choose whether they would enforce the dry law or not.
Almost none do. For example during the national elections in February of 2016 only 6 out of 81 cantons chose to enforce the dry laws.
In fact, more beer and liquor is drunk during Semana Santa than any other week and not only can you buy alcohol in stores but enterprising entrepreneurs put wheels on giant coolers of beer and ice then cruise up and down the beaches selling.