Tips and Information for traveling through the “Happiest country in the world!”
- Dial 911 in case of emergency. Be aware that most operators speak Spanish.
- Bring a rain poncho or rain jacket. These are more convenient than umbrellas when you’re on tours (especially eco-tours) and it starts to rain.
- Drink the tap water (sometimes): The majority of water in Costa Rica is clean but check with your hotel and/or restaurant to make sure. Bottled water is always readily available!
- Bring an anti-nauseant. Costa Rica mountainous topography and curvy roads If you’re prone to car sickness, bringing an anti-nauseant will make your visit much more enjoyable.
- Bring a water proof camera case or camera. You’ll want to take a lot of photos and don’t want to risk water damage.
- Do carry a copy of your passport. Make a copy of the front page and page with your entry stamp to carry with you. Never carry your original passport.
- Do opt for a 4-wheel drive vehicle if you rent a car.
- Know tipping is optional. Generally, Costa Ricans don’t tip. 10% is added onto restaurant bills for the tip. If you would like, 5-10% tip is reasonable.
- Don’t take a taxi that is not an official red taxi. These are red in color with a yellow triangle on the door with an ID on it. The exception, are Airport taxis which are orange. All official taxis have a meter, here it is called a maria, and one should insist that it be used.
- Don’t be afraid to practice your Spanish. Ticos (Costa Ricans) appreciate foreigners who practice speaking Spanish in their country. However, English is widely spoken and understood.
- Don’t wait to buy your souvenirs at the airport. Souvenirs are overpriced at airports! Support local markets and buy your gifts before you go to the airport.
- Don’t rely on traveler’s checks. Most hotels and tour operators do not accept them (with the exception of some all-inclusive resorts).
- Area- 51, 100 km2
- Capital City- San José
- Population- 4.6 million
- Official Language- Spanish
- Currency – Costa Rican colon
- Time Zone- UTC 6
- November-Wet season (November to April)
- Subtropical and tropical climate
- Latitudinal position (10˚N, 84˚W) of Costa Rica does not produce significant variability in annual temperature.
- Coastal Range: 26˚C (78˚F) – 35˚C (95˚F)
- Central Valley: 17˚C (62˚F) – 27˚C (80˚F)
- Montane (varies with altitude): Usually below 10˚C (50˚F), rarely below freezing point
Visa and Entry Conditions
IMPORTANT: ALL foreigners who enter Costa Rica, regardless if they require a visa or not, must comply with the following conditions of entry:
- Have a passport with at least 3 months validity at the time of entry to Costa Rica (the period of validity is of 6 months for those foreigners who DO need a visa)
- Upon entry, have a return ticket or a ticket showing journey continuation to a third country
- Prove that they have sufficient financial means to fund their sojourn in Costa Rica
- Present the International Certificate of Vaccination against yellow fever
Yellow Fever Vaccinations
- All persons who, before entering Costa Rica, have been in countries at risk MUST be vaccinated against yellow fever.
- International Certificate of Vaccination- Valid from 10 days after vaccination must be presented as proof.
- Exempt from immunization-
- Persons who have been in transit (airports, ports, and border posts) on their way to Costa Rica.
- Persons who, having been in countries as risk, before entering Costa Rica, have remained in a country not at risk for at least 6 days AND have not developed yellow fever during that period.
The countries at risk are:
In Africa: Angola, Benin, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Republic of the Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Equatorial Guinea, Kenya, Liberia, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Sao Tomé and Príncipe, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda and Zambia.
In America: Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Venezuela, French Guyana and Trinidad and Tobago
- “Pura Vida” (pure life) is the country philosophy that encourages citizens to slow down and enjoy the simple things in life. Costa Ricans will often greet and bid farewell to each other with “Pura Vida”. Their philosophy has earned the country one of the happiest in the world!
- Culture influenced by indigenous and Spanish colonialism with some Jamaican and Chinese immigrant culture.
- There’s a strong ethos and pride for the environment evident in their sustainability and conservation policies.
- 20% of land is protected with the creation of National Parks (2 declared UNESCO World Heritage Sites), Forest Reserves, and Protected Wildlife Areas.
- Costa Rican food is fairly cheap and simple. Traditional meals consist of: rice, (black) beans, chicken or fish, and a medley of vegetables. You’ll enjoy the delicious and colorful varieties of fruit. Be sure to try these traditional dishes:
- Gallo Pinto-Rice and black bean mix with sour cream, scrambled eggs, and fried plantain.
- Bocas- black bean chimichurri (tomatoes and onions in lime juice) dip served with tortilla chips and/or ceviche (fish/shrimp with onion and lime juice).
- Chorreadas- Costa Rican corn pancakes.
- Pozol- corn soup
Enjoy a cold Cerveza Imperial beer at a local Soda: Sodas are restaurants owned by locals that serve traditional and fairly priced cuisine. Sodas are typically named after the owner and may look something like this, “Soda enter last name here.”
- November 2-All Soul’s Day: Costa Rica’s version of Mexico’s famous Day of the Dead. Costa Ricans gather at cemeteries to pay homage to deceased loved ones. Tombstones are often elaborately decorated with pictures, flowers, and candles. Catholic masses are held across the country attracting large groups of people. Some Costa Ricans honor their loved ones by going on pilgrimages to the cemeteries where they are laid to rest.
- Mid-November- Coffee Picking Contests: Throughout the Central Valley, people gather to partake in contests that are followed by lively celebrations that include music and dancing.
Costa Rican accounts for only 0.03 percent of the earth’s surface (51.100 km2) but contains nearly 6 percent of the world’s biodiversity.
- Protected area encompasses 1342 hectares (3,316 acres) and the landscape is a matrix of dry forest, lowland forest, microclimate, highlands, coral reef and wetland ecosystems.
- The country is home to 1,900 tree species; and 1,500 orchid species (20,000 in the world).
- Approximately 200 identified volcanos.
- Part of the Mesoamerica Biodiversity Hotspot: ~145 endemic species (mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fresh water and marine fish, vertebrate and vascular plant genera)
Tico is the term for a native Costa Rican.
- Costa Ricans are very FRIENDLY people! Expect warm and friendly greetings from citizens who are eager to share the beauty of their country. It is not uncommon for people to befriend foreigners and invite them to their homes for family gatherings and celebrations.
- Halloween- the country (mostly) does not celebrate this holiday as it is considered a day dedicated to the devil. However, as young people are more heavily influenced by North America, this holiday is slowly gaining popularity and is seen as a social opportunity for getting together with friends and dressing up.
- Costa Ricans hold long standing and strong traditions heavily influenced by the Catholic tradition.
- Family structure is characterized by tight knit bonds with family members.
- The majority of people do not leave the family and venture out on their own until they are formally married.
- Rare to see individual men and woman living on their own.
- “Machismo”- an underlying male chauvinistic culture persists where traditional and conservative gender roles are reinforced. Woman, even if they hold leadership roles are expected to cook, clean, and raise the children. Men are considered heads of the households. This is gradually changing as young people are more influenced by North American culture and philosophies.
- European Union (EU): main export destination
- Main export products (to the EU): computer parts (microchips), bananas, pineapples, coffee, melons, electronic circuits, medical devices, shrimp, watermelon, cassava.
- Main import products (from EU): electronic circuits, crude materials, bulbs, machinery and transport equipment, chemicals
- Constitutional Democracy with three branches of power: Executive, Legislative, and Judicial
- Costa Rica does not have a military government: Abolished in December 1, 1948 by President José Figueres Ferrer
- Population: 4.6 million (2011 INEC estimate)
- 60 percent- Catholic
- 22 percent- Evangelical
- 12 percent- no religious affiliation
Ecotourism is the primary attraction. The country is divided into 7 provinces, each offering unique and exciting outdoor experiences and attractions.
The capital city of the country, and political and administrative center of Costa Rica. Experience the unique architectural heritage, visit one of the many museums, or get lost in the narrow maze of shops, eateries, and vendors at Costa Rica’s Mercado Central (Central Market).
Second largest city in Costa Rica. Visitors can experience diverse landscapes and biota that’s supported by the regions variable topographic relief. Cloud forests, volcanic montane landscapes, and Great Plains blanket the region. Take a hike to Arenal Volcano, the country’s most active, and swim in one of the many thermal springs and waterfalls.
The city was the colonial capital until independence in 1821. Visit the beautiful Basílica de Los Ángeles, a vestige of colonial tradition or the ruins of St. Bartholomew church which was destroyed by an earthquake in the early twentieth century. A short drive away from the city (52 km, 32 miles) is Irazu Volcano; the country’s highest (3432m altitude) and still active volcano. Here, visitors can experience the emerald green crater lagoon.
Sea turtles and pristine beaches! It is the largest province in the country, however, is home to only 8% of the population. Ostional Wildlife National Refuge protects 12 km of beach used by 7 species of sea turtle (hawksbill, green, leatherback and olive ridley) to lay eggs between July and November. Walk the trails in Rincon de la Vieja National Park, habitat of guaria morada (Guarianthe skinneri), the national flower.
Coffee cultivation and Spanish architecture are this province’s main attractions. Take a coffee tour at Café Britt plantation and roaster. Old adobe home dot this region’s beautiful landscape. Homes are constructed of plant fiber and clay and painted with bright colors. La Selva Protection Zone is home to 7% of all known species of butterflies in the world.
A popular fishing area, people in this region are of Afro-Caribbean descent. Visitors can see the three-toed sloth in Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge. Get away from it all by visiting Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge on the border with Panama, one of the country’s most remote and pristine beaches.
The largest province in the country, it houses the Port of Caldera which is one of the most important port that also receives cruise ships. Unique geological formations created by glaciation 25,000 years ago, dot the landscape Chirripo National Park and La Amistad National Park.