A highlight of any trip to Costa Rica invariably involves relaxing under a nice warm tropical shower. However, visitors are often perplexed when they turn on the faucet and get a rude surprise – no water flows from the shower head. Instead, they are confronted by a strange contraption of exposed wires and pipes. This peculiar device is none other than the infamous suicide shower.
Known as duchas eléctricas or more morbidly as duchas de suicidio (suicide showers), these eccentric showers are found throughout Costa Rica. Suicide showers consist of a cold-water pipe mounted to an electrical water heating element.
Turn the faucet, and the water is heated as it passes through the electric coils before spraying from the shower head.
Shock Showers: High Voltage Bathing
The “shock” in the name shock shower comes from the bare electrical parts. The heating element is connected by crude, exposed wiring, often bundled together with electrical tape. The wires then lead to a plug that connects to any nearby electrical outlet.
This crude appearance understandably invokes anxiety for visitors unfamiliar with the showers. However, shock showers have been commonly used across Costa Rica for decades without incident. Locals are nonplussed by the exposed wiring and sketchy connections.
In fact, the showers get their macabre suicide moniker from the perception they could electrocute users, not from actual cases of electrical accidents. Still, the wiring looks dicey enough that you probably don’t want to touch it with wet hands.
Besides the wiring, the other downside of suicide showers is temperature regulation. There are no knobs or dials – the water comes out scalding hot. This necessitates an awkward dance of darting in and out of the stream to avoid getting burned.
The lack of temperature controls relates to how shock shower’s function. The heating elements only switch on when water flows through the pipe, rapidly heating the water on demand. There is no thermostat – just maximum heat whenever water flows.
The only way to regulate the temperature is by diluting the hot stream with cold water. This requires alternately turning on and off the water, a tricky endeavor. Most locals have mastered the approach from childhood experience.
Quirky Costa Rican Culture
In Costa Rica, shock showers highlight some cultural peculiarities. Their prevalence demonstrates the laidback attitude and disregard for safety regulations that perplexes visitors. Costa Ricans enjoy joking about the showers, underscoring their penchant for gallows humor.
The showers also showcase the resourcefulness, thriftiness, and sustainability intrinsic to Costa Rican culture. They are an inexpensive, low-tech solution for heating showers without boilers or gas. The minimalist components also necessitate repairing items rather than costly replacements.
For tourists, shock showers offer an authentic local experience, quirks and all. Stay in enough Costa Rican accommodations and you will eventually encounter one. They are more common in low-cost establishments but can be found even in luxury hotels.
Staying Safe with Suicide Showers
While the hazards of suicide showers may be exaggerated, a few safety tips will keep your shower trouble-free.
- Inspect the wiring before use. Ensure connections are tight with no loose or exposed parts.
- Use a waterproof bag or container for toiletries and keep it away from the showerhead. Don’t set anything on top of the heating element.
- Keep your movements slow and controlled while bathing to avoid hitting or knocking the shower parts.
- Never touch the electrical components with wet hands. Turn off the shower before exiting.
- Check water temperature before stepping all the way in. Adjust with cold water as needed.
- Keep the bathroom floor dry to avoid slipping and grabbing electrical components for stability.
While outlandish, suicide showers offer the chance to experience a unique aspect of Costa Rican life. The key is exercising caution and common sense – treat the shower as you would any electrical appliance. With vigilance, even the lowly suicide shower can be safe and enjoyable. It may even become a treasured memory from your adventures in pura vida.