Costa Rica Travel Info & FAQs
Costa Rica, the smallest country on the entire American continent, boasts an amazing 5% of the world's biodiversity. Located in Central America, Costa Rica serves as the bridge between the South American and North American land masses. Manuel Antonio National Park is home to at least 364 species of mammals, reptiles, birds, insects, and marine life, both the common and the endangered, as well as numerous species of flora and fauna. Hotel Makanda by the Sea is located only 2 miles north of the beach town of Manuel Antonio and only 2.5 miles south of the world-famous fishing port of Quepos. Makanda is blessed to be located right in the middle of one of the richest ecosystem in the world and is easily accessible by air or land.
Costa Rica is characterized by an impressive scenic beauty, consolidated system of protected areas, social stability, high educational levels, and efficient infrastructure and services. All these characteristics are found in a territory roughly the size of West Virginia, surrounded by both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. Traveling from coast to coast takes only 3 to 4 hours by land or 45 minutes by air.
Costa Rica's strategic position between North and South America, the government's positive attitude towards foreign investment, its well-developed infrastructure, access to international markets, and labor quality and cost, make Costa Rica an ideal place to establish commercial operations. Over the last decade Costa Rica has successfully established itself as a regional tourism industry leader. Looking to further strengthen its image as an attractive tourism destination, the country has continued to promote nature and recreational tourism while emphasizing Macroproducts such as Agro-ecotourism, congresses, health, and incentive tourism.
Visas: Citizens of the United States, Canada, and most western European and Latin American nations do not need visas to enter Costa Rica. A current passport valid for a minimum of 6 months after the first day of your entry is mandatory to enter Costa Rica, and all visitors must have a round-trip ticket to be permitted into the country. You are allowed to drive with your normal driver's license for a period of 3 months. All visitors should carry copies of their passports while traveling throughout the country, and the originals should be stored in safe places.
Departure: All travelers must pay a departure tax of of USD $26.00. Kiosks are found at both ends of the departure terminal, or you may pay the tax upon entry to the country at special windows. (Watch for signs.)
Costa Rican time remains the same year round, 6 hours behind Greenwich Mean Time. Stores generally are open Monday through Saturday from 8 or 9 a.m. until 6 or 7 p.m. Some close for lunch any time between 11:30 a.m. and 2 p.m. Government offices are open weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Banks are open weekdays, usually from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., or noon until 6 p.m., and some are open on Saturdays. Private banks tend to have more flexible hours.
Costa Ricans are a fairly mixed group of people. Though the majority of the country's approximately 4 million inhabitants are descendants of Spanish immigrants, many families originated in other parts of Central America, Europe, Asia, and Africa. In the lowlands, a high percentage of people are "mestizo" -- possessing a mixture of European and Indigenous blood -- whereas the majority of inhabitants along the Caribbean coast are of African lineage, and full-blooded Indians of various tribes inhabit much of the Talamanca Mountain Range.
Costa Ricans are commonly known as "Ticos," because they often use the diminutive form of words to be more courteous or friendly. However, they tend to use "-ico" (example: one moment is "momento" or as they say, "momentico") instead the more common "-ito" ("momentito"). Although "-ico" is a correct form of the diminutive, it is rarely used in other Spanish-speaking countries. Hence, people from other countries started calling Costa Ricans "Ticos."
Ticos are famous for being hospitable and are quite happy to live up to this reputation. They are a polite, well-educated, and gregarious people, who are quick with a handshake, smile, and a little joke. They are well aware that their country is a special place and they go out of their way to accommodate visitors, pointing them in the right direction when they get lost, explaining things that might seem strange to a foreigner, and helping make their stay as enjoyable as possible. It has been said that the Ticos are the nation's greatest asset, and once you've experienced their friendliness and spontaneity you will no doubt agree.
Female visitors should realize that Costa Rica is a male-dominated society where "machismo" still rules. Do not be offended by the forwardness of some men. Consider it a compliment.
- Population: 4,195,914 (July 2008)
- Population by gender: Men: 49.94% / Women: 50.06%
Like all Latin American countries, Costa Rica is predominantly Catholic, but churches of other denominations are found throughout the country.
Costa Rica is a progressive society, known for its tolerance and social consciousness, and is one of the oldest democracies in the Americas. Being incredibly far-sighted, the leadership of the late 1940s demilitarized the country, rejecting a standing army in favor of providing for its people the fundamentals of equality, justice, liberty, and freedom. Even before the installation of a democratic constitution and the rejection of a standing military, Costa Rica's leaders historically provided for the health and welfare of the people. Universal health care, agricultural reforms, and housing programs were all in effect before the turn of the century, reflecting the country's true heart and serving as a blueprint for other Latin American countries to follow.
For minor illnesses, prescription drugs, and emergency first aid, pharmacies are generally very competent. You should, however, bring any medication you usually take at home along with a copy of the prescription. Anything more serious can be treated at local private health centers or in the social security hospitals.
According to the World Health Organization, Costa Rica has one of the best health care systems in the world. Evidence of this is the country's infant mortality rate, which is continually dropping while life expectancy increases.
The National Social Security System operates several hospitals throughout the country. This system, established to provide universal medical services, is close to reaching its goal. This same institution also provides worker disability, maternity, and senior citizen benefits. Many diseases common to third world countries have been successfully treated and prevented and some are almost eradicated, such as malaria, yellow fever, leprosy, and tuberculosis. Costa Rica's state-of-the-art facilities, the availability of technical equipment, and the high level of medical expertise have allowed the country to successfully offer heart and liver transplants, cosmetic surgery, and modern dental interventions.
Referred to by its residents as the "Land of Eternal Spring," Costa Rica's mild climate is the envy of many northern visitors. Although often mistakenly referred to as summer, Costa Rica's dry season runs from December to April, and a rainy or "green" season runs from May to November. Being located near the equator, seasonal changes in Costa Rica are not as dramatic as they are in countries on more extreme latitudes. Visitors should be beware that transitional months can often bring surprises and the rainy season is not necessarily "always" wet. July invariably brings a temporary abatement to the afternoon rains and, in general, mornings are sunny and clear. Because of the varied topography, Costa Rica boasts a wide range of microclimates with temperatures descending as altitudes rise.
During the dry season, San Jose and other Central Valley towns enjoy a fresh and breezy climate requiring a jacket or sweater in the evenings, while Guanacaste's arid interior can get extremely hot during the day. Rain can occur throughout the year in high mountainous areas, rainforest locales, and above all in the Caribbean lowlands where downpours can last for several days or break into brilliant sunshine after a couple of hours.
Local currency is the colon (colones in plural). Coins range from 5c to 500c, and paper money from 1000c to 10,000c. The colon is floated against the U.S. dollar, which is the currency worth bringing and is widely accepted throughout the country. Many establishments will not accept $100 bills due to currency fraud, so bring smaller denominations. Dollars and travelers' checks can be exchanged for local currency at banks using your passport. Most banks have a special counter for foreign exchange (cambio). Go early to avoid lines. Most hotels change travelers' checks and cash at slightly lower rates than banks. Euros are not common.
Credit cards are accepted in many tourist establishments, car rental and tour agencies, and most -- but not all -- hotels and restaurants. VISA is the most popular credit card, with MasterCard and American Express widely accepted also.
Restaurants automatically add by law a 13% tax and a 10% service charge to all consumption, so tipping is not essential, although appreciated if the service was particularly outstanding. Service in Costa Rica is at a more laid-back pace, so your meal will be more enjoyable if you know this in advance.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
1. What should I bring with me on my vacation to Costa Rica? You should consider bringing the following items:
- Insect repellent
- Light raincoat
- Light jacket or sweater and long pants (San Jose nights can get chilly)
- Clothing for hiking, touring, etc. (70-90 degree weather)
- Hiking boots or good tennis shoes
- Sandals (best not flip flops)
- Day pack (fanny pack or backpack)
- Passport or Birth Certificate (plus 3 copies of either)
- Driver's license
- Credit card, cash, and/or travelers' checks
- English/Spanish dictionary
- Costa Rica guidebook
- Drugstore items (especially prescriptions)
- Camera and film or digital chips
2. How many suitcases should I pack? Pack light as domestic flights have strict weight limits of approximately 25 lbs. per person.
3. I'm used to a busy pace at home. What's it like there? Customer service is more relaxed here. Be patient and relax, and you will enjoy your time in Costa Rica.
4. I want to rent a car. Is there anything that I should know? You are allowed to drive with your normal driver's license for a period of 3 months; however, local traffic practices are less ordered and roads are sometimes in ill repair.
5. Is there a high crime rate? Petty theft is the most common crime. Your status as a tourist makes you a target. Use common sense. Use your hotel safe and do not leave belongings unattended at any time or in your car. Keep valuable items in front pockets and purses within reach and sight. Do not leave valuables or luggage unattended in public places or in rental cars. Be wary of individuals hanging around ATMs or overly friendly persons that might want to help you with a flat tire on your car. (Most Ticos are very friendly, but use your better judgement and keep your eyes open.)