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Government - Religion - Population - Language - Time Zone - Climate - Food - Topography
Entry requirements - Currency - Banking - Credit cards - Traveler's checks - Electricity
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- Health - Water - Flight information - Transportation - Clothing
What to pack - Taxes - Tipping
 
 

Unlike many other countries around the world, one of the best things about Costa Rica is that its' people actually welcome foreigners. They are friendly, affable, and will make you feel right at home.  Compared with the rest of Latin America living standards here are still at an enviable level, with a literacy rate of 94% and a per capita income double that of the regional average.

Government

Costa Rica is a democratically elected Republic. Elections are held every four years. Back to top

Religion

Like all Latin American countries, Costa Rica is predominantly Catholic, but other denominations are found throughout the country. Back to top

Population

4,300,000 of which over 50% live in the Central Valley which comprises only 4% of the entire country. Back to top

Language

Spanish is the native language, but other languages such as English, French, Italian, and German are frequently spoken especially in tourist areas. Back to top

Time Zone

Costa Rica is on Central Standard Time (-6 GMT) and Daylight Savings Time is not observed. Back to top

Climate

Almost ideal year-round, the climate is a moderate 72 degrees in the highlands, while the lowlands and coastal areas range from the low 70's to the high 90's. Evenings in San Jose are free of humid heat, and beaches are cooled by ocean breezes. Rainy season occurs from the end of May to November, with the heaviest rainfall in October. The Atlantic or Caribbean side is driest from February thru April, with a short "summer" in June and July, and the wettest months from November thru January. However, you should be prepared for rain at any time during the year in this part of the country. The Pacific side and central parts of the country are driest from January through March.

A lot of people have a misconception of our "rainy season", imagining that it's "monsoon like" and that it never stops raining. Nothing could be further from the truth. We can normally be assured of sunny mornings followed by some rain in the afternoons and evenings, and even plenty of days without rain. The Caribbean experiences a "short summer" during this time, and their weather can be quite pleasant.
Avg. highs are between 80-85 degrees Fahrenheit and avg. lows between 72-75 degrees. Back to top

Food

Due to its geographical location and climate, Costa Rica has a wealth of fruits and vegetables that, when combined with the interplay of native and European ingredients and culture, translate into a unique Costa Rican flavor.

The basic staples of the Costa Rican diet are: rice, beans and tortillas, which consist primarily of corn. The ingredients used by Costa Rican cooks include simple native food, such as chayotes, avocados, and the ever present corn. "Tico" fare is neither spicy nor, in many respects, unfamiliar. Breakfast typically features a delicious mixture of rice and black beans known as "gallo pinto" which may be accompanied by eggs, corn tortillas and sour cream. Calorie counters may prefer a tropical fruit plate of papaya, watermelon, pineapple, banana, and in season mango or cantaloupe. "Casados", popular at midday, are huge plates of white rice, beans, fried plantains, salad, cheese, diced vegetables, and your choice of meat, chicken or fish. Hearty soups are a favorite for dinner. Of course Costa Rica produces some of the finest coffee in the world and it's not uncommon to see bumper stickers around proclaiming that "Juan Valdez drinks Costa Rican coffee". Back to top

Topography

Costa Rica is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the south by Panama. It has both a Pacific and Atlantic Coast. A series of volcanic chains (cordilleras) runs from the Nicaraguan border in the northwest to the Panamanian border in the southeast, splitting the country in two. In the center of theses ranges is a high-altitude plain (Central Valley), with coastal lowlands on either side. Over half the population lives on this plain, which has fertile volcanic soils. The Caribbean coast is 132 miles long while the Pacific coast is 635 miles long. Back to top

Entry requirements

A valid passport is required for all nations citizens and visas are needed for certain nationalities so check ahead before traveling. For more information click here.

The citizens of the following nationalities can stay for 90 days without a consular visa if International Agreements exist. Back to top

Argentina Germany / Deutschland Panamá
Andorra Greece Poland
Australia Holland / Netherlands Paraguay
Austria Hungary Portugal
Bahamas Irland Puerto Rico
Barbados Island Romania
Belgium Israel San Marino
Brazil Italy Serbia
Republic of Bulgaria Japan Singapur
Canada Liechtenstein Spain
Croacia Letonia South Africa
Chile Lituania South Korea
Chipre Luxembourg Sweden
Czech Republic Malta Switzerland
Denmark Mexico Trinidad y Tobago
Eslovaquia Monaco United Kingdom
Eslovenia Montenegro United States of America
Estonia New Zealand Uruguay
Finland North Ireland Vaticane
France Norway  

Currency, banking, credit cards, traveler's checks

TURTLE KEY
  • Pacific Olive Ridley / March-October Santa Rosa, Nosara, Quepos, Corcovado
  • Leatherback / July-December Corcovado, Tortuguero, Flamingo, Tamarindo
  • Hawksbill / Non-Breeding Visitor Corcovado, Tortuguero
  • Pacific Green Turtle / July-December Santa Rosa, Quepos, Corcovado
  • Green Turtle - Tortuguero
  • Loggerhead / Non-Breeding Visitor Tortuguero

TThe Costa Rican monetary unit is the Colon. NOTE: DON'T EXCHANGE MONEY IN YOUR HOME COUNTRY BEFORE DEPARTING NOR AT THE AIPORT EXCHANGE COUNTER IN COSTA RICA, THE RATE YOU WILL RECEIVE IS WELL BELOW WHAT YOU'LL RECEIVE AT LOCAL BANKS OR EVEN HOTELS.  The exchange rate is currently hovering around ¢494.00 colones to $1.00 U.S. and can fluctuate without notice.  It is best to bring money in the form of U.S. dollar denominated traveler's checks, don't expect to cash personal checks.  In the city most businesses will accept major credit cards (Visa, Master Card, Amex), however in the outlying areas cash is preferred and many establishments will add a surcharge of around 4-4 1/2% for credit card transactions. There are numerous ATM's around that work on (Cirrus, Star, and Plus) systems so don't forget your PIN.  Office hours are generally from 8:00 am to 4:30-5:00 pm with an hour for lunch between 12 noon and 1 pm.  Most banks are open from 9:00 am to 3:00 pm on weekdays and on Saturdays and many have extended evening hours closing at 7:00 pm. Back to top

Electricity

Standard current is 110volts, 60 Hertz. Back to top

Telephone

Direct-dial service is available to most countries. You may also use telephone credit cards through the appropriate operator for the following companies; ATT, MCI, SPRINT, and BELL CANADA. Back to top

Health

Public health facilities in Costa Rica compare favorably with that of many developed countries and are numerous and dependable. Many English-speaking doctors and dentists practice in San Jose. Back to top

Water

Yes, you can drink the water! Pure and suitable for drinking throughout most of the country. Back to top

Flight information

U.S. carriers include American, United, Continental, Delta, Frontier, U.S. Air, and Spirit Airlines. LACSA is the official Costa Rican carrier. Back to top

Transportation

The majority of Costa Ricans now own cars and heavy traffic congestion is quite common around the cities so it is not recommended that you rent a car while in the major cities and instead rely on public transportation which is quite good and the large number of affordable taxis.  Bus service is readily available both inter and intra city as well as internationally.

Car rentals are popular to get you to places not covered by public transportation as well as giving you the freedom to travel when you want and to stop whenever and wherever you like.  The road system is somewhat primitive compared to North American standards, and driving at night is not normally recommended.  Distances on a map can be quite misleading and are normally measured in time not miles. A trip that might normally take 2 hours in North America could easily be doubled that time in Costa Rica. An international driver's permit is not necessary.

Two domestic airlines (Nature Air and Sansa) service the country well and for those not concerned about a budget there are a number of air taxi services as well as helicopter service.  Back to top

Clothing

The tone here is casual wear - it is not necessary to dress up to go to the theater or to dinner. Comfortable lightweight is best. In the higher elevations, San Jose, the volcanoes, or Monteverde, temperatures are cool and sweaters or light jackets are suggested. Back to top

Pack lightly!! Suggested items:

  • One or two swim suits
  • Lightweight hiking boots with a good tread suggested for hikes
  • Walking or athletic shoe with a good tread suggested for walks
  • Plastic or waterproof sandals or river shoes
  • Personal toiletries
  • Insect repellant
  • Sunscreen - with high sun protection factor, such as SPF 30
  • Hat or cap
  • Sunglasses
  • Binoculars
  • Check batteries in camera
  • Light natural, blends of cotton and a synthetic such as nylon
  • Poncho or rain gear
  • Light jacket or sweater for higher elevations and chilly nights in San Jose
  • Day pack
  • Plastic bags - for keeping books, binoculars and other items dry, and for wet clothing.
Back to top

Taxes

There is a 13% sales tax. Back to top

Tipping

A 10% "service charge" is generally added to all restaurants bills so act accordingly. Taxi drivers generally do not receive a tip. Back to top



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