In a world map, Costa Rica is found in the southern tip of Central America. The country has access to both oceans, the Pacific on the west coast and the Caribbean Sea on the eastern shore. The northern border meets Nicaragua and Panama is the southern neighbor.
According to a 2000 census, Costa Rica has a population of about 4 million. The majority of Costa Ricans are descendants of Spanish settlers and native indigenous tribes. However, large numbers of African, Asian and Latin American immigrants enrich the country’s diverse heritage.
Costa Rica is an environmental heaven. A total of 27% of its territory is protected by national parks and reserves, a higher percentage than any other country in the world. Proud of its ecological heritage, the government has bowed to protect it through laws and policies.
Spanish is the official language but because of the development of the tourism industry, visitors will find someone that speaks English almost everywhere.
The official currency is the Colón. The exchange rate varies every day because of the devaluation theory applied in the country, but banks nationwide will provide colones at the official rate. Although visitors may use dollars in many businesses, some may not accept larger bills.
Costa Rica is a democratic republic and holds presidential elections every four years. The country abolished the military in 1948 and has remained proudly peaceful ever since. As a result, its economical, political and social stability are unique in the world.
There is a 13% sales tax at hotels, restaurants and retail stores. Restaurants also charge a 10% service tax that is later distributed to employees as a tip. In general, tipping is not required but it’ll be gladly accepted in tourism related activities when justified. Visitors must remember to save $26 for the exit fee at the airport.
Citizens of Canada, the United States and Panama don’t need a passport to enter the country, but it’s always better to carry one. Certain nationalities must also present a visa so visitors should check with the nearest Costa Rican embassy for their country’s requirements.
Costa Rica’s time is the same as United States’ central standard but does not observe daylight savings (GMT – 6:00).
Government offices open at 8:00 a.m. and close at 4:00 p.m., national banks close at 3:00 p.m. Private banks, retail stores and other businesses may close at 6:00 p.m. or 8:00 p.m. depending on their location.
More than 20 airlines fly into Costa Rica and take visitors to international airports located in Alajuela and Liberia, Guanacate. Once in the country, local airlines can fly visitors to remote areas and a large network of bus routes connects to virtually anywhere for a small price. For schedules and rates, visitors may contact the ICT. Taxi and car rental services are also available.
Internet, fax, cable television and international telephone services are available throughout the country. For local information, visitors may dial 1113; 1116 for international operator assisted phone calls call and 1024 for international information.
Costa Rica has one of the most developed public health care systems in the world and private hospitals also provide quality services. For emergency assistance, visitors may dial 911.
Unless otherwise specified, the water in Costa Rica is safe to drink. Bottled water is sold throughout the country and is recommended for sensitive stomachs.
Anytime is the perfect time to visit Costa Rica, however, depending on what visitors may want to achieve, there are a few things to keep in mind …
Costa Rica is the land of eternal spring. Temperatures range between 70°F and 80°F with little variation except for the higher altitudes where it may get colder. There are two well defined seasons: dry (December through April) and rainy (May through November).
During the dry season the sunshine is pretty much guaranteed all day long attracting the highest number of tourists. However, the rainy season (also known as green season) has perks of its own, it may be easier to find reservations and prices drop as an incentive to visitors.
Although the Costa Rican tourism industry never rests, holidays may interfere with some activities such as visits to museums, banks or government offices:
January 1: New Year’s day.
March/April: Holy week.
April 11: Juan Santamaría day.
May 1: Labor Day.
July 25: Guanacaste day.
August 2: Virgen de los Ángeles day.
August 15: Mother’s day.
September 15: Independence day.
December 25: Christmas day.