Christopher Columbus discovered and named Costa Rica (“Rich Coast”) in 1502. Located in the tropics of Central America, Costa Rica is a literal garden spot between the Pacific Ocean and the Caribbean Sea. Panama borders it in the south and Nicaragua is on the northern border. Costa Rica is rich in flora, fauna, hundreds of miles of beaches and 25% of the land dedicated to national park conservation efforts.
The countries climate is comfortable year round with rainy season falling between May and October when you can expect 1-2 hours of rainfall in the afternoon which ads to the luster of the countryside. The capital San Jose in the central valley region is the zone of year round spring-like weather, much cooler and moderate temperatures than the beaches and coastal areas.
Known as the “Switzerland Of Central America”, Costa Rica boasts the most established democracy in Latin America. The safe and high standard of living is enhanced by the abolishment of armed forces in the constitution of 1949.
The people of Costa Rica, called “Ticos”, are friendly with a high rate of English speaking population especially in the city. You will love the variety and beauty Costa Rica offers…
Official Name: Republica de Costa Rica
Capital: San José
Surface: 51’100 km2
Ecological zones: 25% of the landmass
Dimensions: North-South 464 km/ East-West 259 km
Coastline Pacific: 1020 km/ Atlantic 210 km
Highest Mountain: Cerro Chirripo Grande 3839 m
Longest River: Rio Grande de Terraba 196 km
Inhabitants: 3,8 million (50% living in central valley)
Literacy rate: 93%
President Since May 2010: Laura Chinchilla
Economy: Tourism, Technology, Banana, Coffee, Sugar Cane
Currency: Colon (US dollars widely accepted)
Compulsory Education: Since 1917 until the 6th grade
Costa Rica has basically three main climate zones:
This most highly populated region is 950 – 1500 m above sea level with average temperature of 22-24°Celsius. Annual rainfall is around 2000 mm with dry season running from December to April, rainy season from May to November.
Temperatures on the western coast average around 25° Celsius. Guanacaste in the northwest is normally a little higher temperature and is considered the more dry and sunny zone in the country and featuring the most popular beach communities. The rainy season is the same time period in all zones.
The Caribbean coast is the most humid and tropical zone in the country. Annual rainfall in this zone are around 3500 mm with September and October being considered the driest months. The northern coast featuring Tortuguero National Park has higher rainfall than the southern coasts featuring Puerto Viejo and Cahuita. Temperatures here stay around 26 Celsius year around.
Major Credit cards are accepted at most major hotels, stores and restaurants. Visa and American Express are the most widely accepted. In some casinos and smaller stores, you can be charged an additional 5-7% for using a credit card as the merchants pay higher fees for credit card clearance than in the United States and other major countries.
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As in most countries, you can purchase duty free articles befor entering the country and when exiting at the airport. You may find the prices leaving the country not much better than within the countries domain, and selection is typically limited.
Earthquakes are commonplace throughout the Central American region. Costa Rica was one of the first countries to institute strict codes in constructing to withstand earthquakes. The last significant quake was in 1991, but damage was relatively mild because of the precautions taken years before. Small tremors throughout the year are welcomed by authorities as it relieves the potential energy buildup of a large quake.
Emergency numbers exist here as in most countries. Here are the general emergency numbers in Costa Rica:
General Emergency Number: 911
Traffic Police: 2222.9330
INS Insurance Company (in case of a traffic accident):800.800.8000
Hospital San Juan de Dios (public hospital): 2257 62 82
Hospital México (public hospital): 2232 61 22
Clinica Biblica (private hospital): 2257 52 52 English spoken
Hospital Cima (private hospital): 2208 10 00 English spoken
Most foreigners are allowed to stay 90 days with only a valid passport and return flight ticket to enter the country. Some other countries are required to have a visa for entry.
Major regional and international airlines service San Jose the capital city and Liberia in the state of Guanacaste. Grupo Taca and Sansa are the main regional carriers while American, Continental and United offer daily flights in and out of the country. There is a $26 departure tax for foreigners leaving from San Jose’s airport.
Costa Rica boasts a wide variety of restaurants and bars in the Central Valley region. The tourist destinations at the beaches also offer wide fare of restaurants and entertainment. Costarican food is usually not spicey and features many natural products of the country. “Gallo Pinto” is a typical local breakfast comprised of rice and black beans fried with onions and served with scrambled or fried eggs. Plaintains (banana), seafood and a wide variety of local fruits and vegetables are mainstays of the local diet. Local brands of beer, fruit juices and liquors are inexpensive and widely available. Imported wines and food products you’ll find quite expensive compared to relative US prices. Water and food in Costa Rica is considered very clean and safe, especially in major cities. In more remote areas, it is safer to rely on bottled water and be careful about the source of ice.
Most major hotels offer internet access in public areas, and internet cards exist almost everywhere, especially in the cities and major tourist destinations. Speed of access is generally slower and less reliable than other major countries.
Spanish is the official language of Costa Rica. English is widely spoken or understood in the cities and tourist areas. Caribbean dialects exist on the Caribbean coast with a heavy black population.
We recommend bringing two suitcases of medium size while avoidin large and heavy luggage. A backpack type bag is also recommendable to help accommodate the many excursions available throughout the country which allows you to pack for a day or two trip and not dragging all your things with you. Most international airlines allow up to 70 pound bags per person. Smaller plane trips in the region may restict you much less than that for local trips, so the lighter second bag comes in handy.
Besides the normal personal items and medicines, you should pack the following:
• Light weight but durable hiking shoes
• light raincoat
• beach hat
• Suntan lotion
• mosquito repellent
• long sleeve shirts and long pants to protect from mosquitos in the jungle areas
• flashlight and batteries
• some warmer cloths and long trousers for higher elevations and Central Valley visits
Currency can be exchanged to colones at the airport and most banks. US dollars are accepted in most establishments though you will get varying rates of conversion. The best and current exchange rate can be gained at ATMs which are abundant throughout the major cities and main tourist areas. Other foreign currencies such as EUROS are still difficult to exchange in the country. Always bring your passport and quality copy when transacting any business or currency in Costa Rica. Also avoid exchanging or flashing money in the street or public places. While Costa Rica is a relatively safe country, there is rising petty crime and thievery, especially in areas where foreigners stay or congregate. Valuable jewelry and personal items should be either left at home, or stored as securely as possible in this region. Extra cash and valuable should always be kept in secure lock boxes provided by most hotels.
The medical system in Costa Rica is considered very good. Modern hospitals are in most of the populate areas and private hospitals in and around San Jose are excellent. Pharmacies are numerous, some open 24 hrs in the San Jose area. Many prescription medicines are offered over the counter in many pharmacies, but some specialized prescription medicines are rarely in stock here. It is best to bring with you a large supply of these types of medicines for extended stays in Costa Rica.
You will find the main post office in San José at Calle 2, Avenida 1-3. It is open from Monday to Friday, 8AM-6PM and on Saturday from 8AM-12 noon. Most larger towns have post offices and post office boxes to post and receive mail. Home delivery is uncommon and slow throughout Costa Rica. Most major hotels have mailboxes for sending postcards, etc, but delivery will take 2-3 weeks and many of these boxes are not emptied on a daily basis.
Checkin for return flights from Costa Rica is usually 3 hours before departure. The new departure tax for all foreignersis $26 dollars which can be paid in cash or credit card at a desk inside the airport lobby. Reconfirmation of your flight before going to the airport is recommended.
Costa Rica is one of the safest traveling destinations in Central America. Like everywhere in the world, in major cities there are those who try and take advantage of foreigners and tourists. Since Costa Rica is still a poor country in comparison to the US or most European countries, there is a larger volume of petty crime to be aware of. Taking normal precautions should alleviate you from exposure to this risk. Don’t carry a lot of cash or flash cash or valuable in public view or on the streets. Leave valuable jewelry and watches at home and what you need to bring of value should always be locked in safety deposit boxes offered at most hotels. Avoid traveling alone at night in strange areas and always park any rented vehicle in attended parking lots. Also make a copy of your travel documents such as passport and licenses and carry them on you in case of any emergency.
San Jose and other major cities have many shops and areas for buying jewelry, local art and t-shirts. Large US style malls can be found in the outskirts of San Jose…Mall San Pedro near the University of Costa Rica, Multiplaza near Escazu, and Centro Comercial Cariari. El Pueblo and Plaza de la Democracia have a variety of specialty and small shops for gifts and souvenirs. Just ask any taxi driver to take you there. Items prohibited from export are plants, animals, original Indian jewelry or excavation objects without obtained permission. Inspections are carried out at the airport with hefty legal consequences for breaking the laws in Costa Rica.
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A 13% sales tax is charged on all materials, services and consumable goods. In most restaurants, a 10% service charge is added automatically to the bill also. Some restaurants print prices including the sales tax, but most bills will have the itemized tax and service added on at the bottom. While most locals don’t tip in addition, for good service staff members look for and appreciate an additional tip, but 3-5% is usually sufficient.
Taxi service is plentiful but a bit expensive due to high gasoline prices in Costa Rica. Only when it is raining is there a problem in finding a taxi. All taxis are supposed to be licensed in Costa Rica and are red in color (airport taxis are orange). They are supposed to have meters called, Marias“ though some taxis will not automatically run the meter and state an inflated price once you arrive at your destination. It is important to request the „maria“ if they dont activate in upon your entering the taxi. Avoid pirate taxis which are usually a different color, have no official yellow colored triangle on the drivers door and usually dont have a meter. Just politely say no if they stop to offer you service. There have been cases of robberies and setups by these „piratas“. Airport taxi rates are set at the airport (currently US$12 to downtown area). Around downtown, you will pay between $2-$3 for the average trip locally. Other travelers find drivers by the day for around $80 is a good value. Driving your own car in Costa Rica is expensive and risky based on the conditions of the roads and accident which can tie up a traveler in local courts before they can leave the country.
Costa Rica has once area code, 506. There are numerous pay phones throughout the major cities. Most work on a prepaid phonecard which are available at many stores, markets and banks throughout the country. Most phones offer domestic and international service and phonecard access. Long distance calls from hotels are usually very pricey though most allow access to US ATT or other long distance card use. It is advisable to ask the hotel desk about tariffs and phone charges upon check in to avoid unwanted surprises when you checkout. Cell phone Sim cards are available quite easy from several providers KOLBI is the government carrier and the one with the best all country coverage but you can find alternatives like Movistar or Claro their cover is really good but not 100% to get a Sim card all you need is to have your passport handy, there are more and more rental services available on a daily or weekly basis in the major cities and lots of rental cars and hotels offer you free or low cost cell phones for your trip.
An international US adapter for power is unnecessary since the voltage in the whole country is 110.