About Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a rugged, rainforested Central American country with coastlines on the Caribbean and Pacific. Though its capital, San Jose, is home to cultural institutions like the Pre-Columbian Gold Museum, Costa Rica is known for its beaches, volcanoes and immense biodiversity. Roughly a quarter of its area is made up of protected jungle, rich with wildlife including spider monkeys and quetzal birds.
Costa Rica is a true vacation paradise, offering practically everything a visitor would like, with such a diversity of natural resources and a very well developed eco-tourism. There are secluded white sand beaches with great surf and amazing scuba diving. There are active volcanoes and towering rain forests. Getting around is easy via rental car, plane, or public bus, and the warm and friendly people make travel relatively safe and fun.
Most mountain ranges are volcanic, and some are quite accessible to visitors. In the province of Cartago, for example, you will find the Irazu volcano, which erupted in the early sixties. The Poas volcano has one of the largest active craters in the world. And, the Arenal volcano treats thousands of visitors each year to a constant stream of red, hot lava rocks tumbling down its slopes.
San Jose Currency : Colon Driver's License : An international driver's license is recommended but your current driver's license is valid for the first 3 months. Must be 21 years old. Electricity : 110 V, 60 Hz Entry Requirements : A valid passport is required. Return or onward ticket required. It is the traveller's responsibility to check with the country’s Embassy for up-to-date information. GMT Time : -6 hr. Daylight savings time is not applied. Government : Democratic Republic Land size : 51,100 km2 Language : Spanish, some English National Airlines : Sansa, Nature Air Population : 4,253,877 approx Religion : Roman Catholic 76%, Evangelical 14%, other 10% Required Vaccines : none Tourist Season : December through May
Costa Rican cuisine is known for being tasty but quite mild, compared to its neighbour countries, and laden with delicious seafood from the coast, and fresh fruits and vegetables. A breakfast favourite is Gallo pinto, a mixture of rice and beans with a little cilantro or onion thrown in. It is usually accompanied, as most dishes are, with the Lizano Salsa, a mild salsa that has a hint of curry and is slightly sweet. Natilla, a Costa Rican sour cream, is sometimes also added for variation. The traditional national dish is called Casado (which means married) contains rice and beans with meat, chicken or fish, and is always served with salad and fried plantain or a piece of white cheese in accompaniment. Another typical meal consists of egg on chicken with rice and beans, vegetables, fried plantain, and cooked bananas.
Other food staples include; corn tortillas; white cheese; picadillos (a meat and vegetable combination, garnished with spices); tamales (corn-based dough); chorreadas (corn pancake); pozole (corn soup); and empanadas (corn-based turnover stuffed with beans, cheese, or meat). Common vegetables used in picadillos are potatoes, green beans, squash, ayote, chayote and zucchini.
The local coffee, banana and plantain staples are also the three main agricultural exports of the country. Costa Rican coffee enjoys worldwide popularity, with seven varieties grown within the country. Refrescos are beverages made from fresh fruit (cas, guanabana, watermelon, blackberry, strawberry and passion fruit), sugar and either water or milk. Agua Dulce (sweet water) and is made from tapa de dulce (boiled down sugar cane juice to a solid form) which is dissolved into boiling water or milk.
Fermented sugar cane is used to produce the national alcoholic drink called Guaro. It is similar to vodka, and is usually drunk with water and lemon. Pilsen and Imperial are the most popular beers in the country.
Culture Costa Rican traditions and culture tend to retain a strong degree of Spanish influence, best represented in the language, the Catholic religion, the architecture of churches and some other historical buildings. The indigenous influence remains rather minimal, mostly seen in corn-based food, handicrafts, ceramics and basketwork. The African slaves, brought in during the 17th and 18th centuries, have left their mark in the gastronomy, music and architecture. Many Chinese and Italian immigrated here to work on the construction of the railroad system during the 1900s.
The locals refer to themselves as tico or tica (female). This comes from the locally popular usage of "tico" diminutive suffixes, added to many words to sound more polite and courteous. Costa Ricans are known as very friendly, helpful, laid back, unhurried, educated and environmental people. Spending quality time with family and friends is paramount. Visitors are normally referred to as Gringos, but without the derogatory meaning of other Latin American countries. The common expression Pura Vida (pure life) truly embodies the lifestyle, and is used widely in conversation, meaning This is living! or Cool!
Folkloric Costa Rican music includes rhythms known as tambito and punto. The Punto Guanacasteco is a folkloric dance performed by couples. The African musical heritage is also present, with the sounds of rumba, calypso and reggae. Rock music is very popular and a newer local rock style emerged some 20 years ago, led bands such as Gandhi, Evolucion, and Kadeho.
Geography The landmass of Costa Rica is primarily of volcanic origins, making up the mountain system that spreads centrally across the country: the Cordillera de Guanacaste, the Cordillera Central and the Cordillera de Talamanca. A few of these volcanoes remains active (Arenal Volcano, Irazu Volcano, Rincon de la Vieja Volcano and Turrialba Volcano) and make for interesting visits. The highest point in the country is Cerro Chirripo, at 3,810m. The nation's long coastal plains long both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Politically, Costa Rica is divided into 7 provinces: San Jose, Heredia, Alajuela, Cartago, Limon, Puntarenas and Guanacaste.
The country plays a big part in the neotropic ecozone, the land that form a natural bridge between North and South America, which facilitates the coming together and displacement of innumerable animal and plants species.
History Although we now there has been human inhabitants in Costa Rica since Pre-Columbian times, today's population mostly consists of European descent. Few of the native Indians survived contact with the European settlers. The indigenous population today represents a mere 1% of the population.
Christopher Columbus was the first to land on Costa Rica's shores in 1502. Spanish colonizers began to establish themselves in 1522, after several failed attempts due to disease, heat, native resistance, and pirate raids. Costa Rica remained a Spanish colony for nearly three centuries, until 1821, when the country joined other Central American provinces in a joint declaration of independence from Spain. With the termination of the United Provinces of Central America in 1838, Costa Rica proclaimed its sovereignty and independence.
Several unique factors contributed to the development of an autonomous and individualistic agrarian and egalitarian society. Costa Rica has mostly always been peaceful and democratic. Only two violent incidents occurred (in 1917-19 Federico Tinoco ruled as a dictator; and an armed uprising in 1948 led by Jose Figueres).The army was abolished in 1948.
Nature Costa Rica is home to a rich variety of plants and animals, as it contains 6% of the world's biodiversity; and 25% of the land is designated protected forests and reserves. The Instituto Nacional de Biodiversidad is entrusted with all genetic and biochemical research. To this date, Costa Rica counts around 850 species of birds, 228 species of mammals, 218 species of reptiles, 160 species of amphibian, 360,000 species of insects, and 10,353 plant species. Favourite sightings include the loggerhead turtles, several monkey species and the three-toed sloth.
The list of nature parks is long and one can not possibly see all of them in a single trip. A few stand out in popularity for travelers: the Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve, the Tortuguero National Park, the Manuel Antonio National Park, and the Corcovado National Park.
Always attracting visitors, all of the Costa Rican volcanoes are designated national parks. The Irazu Volcano remains astounding with its green-water crater. A walking path has been established around the Turrialba Volcano. The active Arenal Volcano erupt about 40 times a day, the best time to visit is at night where you can see lava flows.
Sports If there is one sport Costa Rica can claim to be excellent for, it would be surfing hands down. The real attraction for surfers is the variety of surf categories, and year round waves. The Pacific coast particularly has some of the best surfing in Central America. Tamarindo is a perfect beach to learn to surf, while Playa del Coco is ideal for advanced surfers.
Here is a brief list of other activities to choose from:
Biking Bird Watching Fishing Golf Hiking and trekking Horseback Riding Rock Climbing Snorkeling & Scuba Diving Hang Gliding, Paragliding, and Ballooning Canopy Tours Windsurfing River Rafting, Kayaking, and Canoeing
Banks & Money
The local currency is Colon, named after Columbus. The currency is inflating at a rapid pace and forged bills are quite common. It is recommended to simply carry US Dollars in small denomination since tourism areas have prices marked in Dollars.
Banks are easy to find but always accompanied by long delays. Us Dollar traveller's checks can be changed at the bank or in hotels. You can find ATMs in most places, particularly in San Jose, that dispense US Dollars and Colones. Major credit cards are accepted in major tourist places but not in more rural areas.
Climate Because Costa Rica is located so close to the equator, the climate pretty much remains tropical year round. A factor to consider here though is the varying elevation and rainfall. Climate wise, the seasons are divided into two periods. The dry season, or summer, is from December to May. The green season, or winter, is the period from May to November, where in many locations it rains constantly.
The location that receives the most rain is the Caribbean slopes of the Central Cordillera Mountains. The humidity is also higher on the Caribbean side than on the Pacific side. The average annual temperature on the coastal lowlands is around 31C, 21C inland, and below 10C on the summits of the highest mountains.
For monthly average temperatures please refer to your destination of choice.
Communication The country code in Costa Rica is 506. There are no area codes, local phone numbers are seven-digit numbers. The modern telecommunications services are provided by the government run Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad. Direct-dialling, telegram, fax, cellular phone network and internet access are all available. Internet cafés can be easily found in the tourist spots, as well as in hotels.
There is one English newspaper, The Tico Times. Check out Viva and Tiempo Libre for the latest listing of music, theatre and dance performances.
Health The easiest way to stay healthy in Costa Rica is to use common sense when it comes to food and drink. Although the water is considered potable, it is strongly advised to drink only bottled water. Make sure foods are properly cooked, and it may be best to avoid the delicious ceviche dish, a raw marinated seafood salad. Order all drinks without ice cubes and while enjoying the popular refrescos (fruit shakes) make sure to have it made with milk (en leche) instead of water. Here is a list of common ailments to watch for:
- Sunburn or sunstroke - Diarrhea and intestinal upsets occur a lot since our stomachs are not accustomed to the food bacteria found here. In extreme cases, you should definitely take a stool sample to a lab for analysis. Amoebic dysentery or another form of parasite could be the cause and is easily treated. - Malaria, dengue fever, and leptospirosis all exist in Costa Rica. Although the likelihood of contracting any serious tropical disease in Costa Rica is slim, especially if you stick to touristy areas, you should ideally be inoculated. - Riptides, in-shore currents running out to sea, are very common. If you find yourself in a riptide, swim parallel to the beach until you're out of the riptide current area. - There are several species of venomous snakes and insects (snakes, scorpions, black widow spiders, tarantulas, bullet ants, etc), but they should not become a great fear. Just watch where you stick your hands, and shaking out your clothes and shoes before putting them on is a good idea. Bug bites can be a nuisance in the tropical forests so bring some insect repellent.
There are no required vaccines to enter the country, unless you are arriving from a yellow fever affected destination. The following vaccines though are highly recommended for any tropical destination: hepatitis A and B, rabies, typhoid, tetanus and yellow fever. Less frequented areas of Costa Rica may also be prone to Cholera, Polio, Dengue fever, Diphtheria and Malaria. If you plan an adventure trip, it may be a good idea to get inoculated.
Official Holidays January 1- New Year's Day March/April - Easter April 11 - Juan Santamaría's Day (National Hero) May 1 - Labour Day July 25 - Guanacaste Day August 2 - Virgin of the Angels Day (Patron Saint) August 15 - Mother's Day August 24 - National Park's Day September 15 - Independence Day October 12 - Columbus Day / Dia de la Raza December 25 - Christmas
Safety Costa Rica has always been considered relatively safe and its people reputed for being good Samaritans. However crime has risen in recent years, mostly involving robberies and pickpockets. Do not carry a wallet in your back pocket, do not wear anything of value, be discreet with cameras, watch your belongings at all times. The same goes for your hotel room and rental car, leave nothing of value behind. You should even keep an eye on your luggage at all times when travelling by bus.
Extra precautions should be taken with a rental car as they can be more easily identified. Always, always use public parking lots. Never park on the streets. Be on your guard of strangers who stop to help you if you have car trouble.
Shopping Handicrafts really worth buying are few and rare in Costa Rica. Notable exceptions would be woodcarvings and pottery. An example is the colourfully painted Costa Rican oxcart replicas. These are particularly popular in the craft shops of the town of Sarchi, also know for its furniture. Beautiful low-fired simple potteries put the town of Guaitil, in central Guanacaste, on the tourist map. Costa Ricans create marvellous reproductions of pre-Columbian gold jewellery as well.
The one thing you should buy, in large quantities, in Costa Rica is coffee. With seven different coffee-producing zones, you are sure to find one to satisfy your taste. All coffee is strictly Arabica. Café Britt is the best widely available brand. Do buying whole beans (grano entero), as the local grinds are much finer and may have sugar already added.
Taxes & Tips The departure tax of around US $26, per person, must be paid when leaving the country.
The government sales tax is 13%, and is charged on all goods and services. Hotels charge a 16.3% tax. Restaurants charge a 13% tax and add on a 10% service charge. Tipping is also customary for bellmen, doormen, porters and tour guides. Taxi drivers do not receive any tip.
Transportation There are 3 main airports in Costa Rica: Juan Santamaria International Airport is located close to the capital San Jose; Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport is near Liberia and is the closest to the Pacific Northwest coast. Used for domestic flights and international chartered flights, the Tobias Bolanos Airport is situated in Pavas, a suburb of San Jose. If arriving by sea, several international ports will accommodate your arrival.
The Interamericana (Panamerican Highway) runs through Costa Rica and is the main entry point by car. Many Costa Rican roads are in terrible shape, riddled with major potholes, and many roads are unpaved. A good road map with the small towns listed is essential as road signs are relatively few, or accurate. You can find great deals at car rental agencies but make sure you have proper complete insurance.
There is an extensive network of bus routes within the country, and some international destinations, with reasonable fares and usually comfortable seating. Taxis are safe, as long as you choose recognized companies. The national taxi service has red vehicles. From Juan Santamaria International Airport, taxis are orange. When in San Jose, fares are metered. But in the provinces you should agree on a price ahead of time.