Costa Rica Travel Information and Suggestions

Costa Rica is certainly an exquisite and promising travel destination. Located in Central America, this part of the Isthmus covers a minuscule 0.01 percent of the planet's surface, and yet holds approximately 6 percent of the world's entire biodiversity.

This country is reknowned for its amazing scenery, well developed national parks and biological reserves, as well as many other advantages related to social aspects and infrastructure.

Its 51,100 square kilometers are bathed on the coastlines by both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. You will be surprised: it only takes three to four hours by land (or 45 minutes by air), to travel from one coast to the other.

This geographical situation can also cause quite an impact on the climate. There are only two distinct seasons year round: from May to November (rainy) and December to April (dry). The average temperature in the Central Valley is 72°F (22°C). Along the coast, it can vary from 70° to 90°F (21° to 32°C).

Human settlement in Costa Rica dates back to the year 5000 B.C., but in comparison to the great pre-Hispanic civilizations on the American Continent the aboriginals of Costa Rica were not numerous nor did they reach a high level of development.

The Constitution from November 7, 1949, defines Costa Rica as a Democratic Republic. The country abolished its army in 1948, consolidating Costa Rica’s vocation of peace and democracy. The only security organizations are the Civil Guard and the Rural Guard. Instead of spending money on militarization, Costa Rica has invested its resources in health and education.

Costa Rica is a Democratic Republic with a President and a Constitution that is characterized by a system of weights and balances. The President holds the Executive Power and for this reason is the center of all the political power. There are two Vice-Presidents and a 15-member Cabinet.

The President, along with the 57 deputies of the Legislative Assembly, are elected for a period of four years. Through a change made in 1969, Deputies can be re-elected to Parliament for several non-consecutive terms. The same was done for the Presidential seat in 2003. The Judicial Power of the Republic must ensure compliance of the Constitution and acts as a moderator in conflicts between the Legislative and Executive powers.

Costa Rica is subdivided into 7 Provinces which are then subdivided administratively into 81 ‘cantones’ or counties which have their own local governments headed by a Mayor. The Mayor is elected for a period of 4 years by direct vote of the people who live in that canton. The central government has an institutional autonomous system society that offers basic services to the people.

Some of these institutions include the Costa Rican Institute for Electricity, the National Insurance Institute and the Social Security System of Costa Rica known as the “Caja Constarricense del Seguro Social”.

Costa Rica does not have an army and its internal security is guaranteed by the police force.

The country contributes to the development of democratic structures and the respect for the human rights. In Latin America, Costa Rica is well known because of its human rights and guarantees that offer Costa Ricans great opportunities in the Development.

According to the World Health Organization, Costa Rica has one of the best health systems in the world. Child mortality has decreased while life expectancy has increased. Health System is in charge of managing diverse hospitals as well as covering services for the disabled, the elderly and maternity care.

As far as education, the country has one of the highest literacy rates of the continent with almost 94% of the population being able to read and write.

Costa Rica is an extraordinary refuge for life, full of natural surprises and while covering an area of 51.100 km, which represents only a 0.03 percent of the surface of the planet, it houses around 5 percent of the entire biodiversity of the world. The plant formations vary depending on altitude of the ground. In the tropical forest on the coastal areas of the northeast and south, rainfall is more abundant and the trees and vegetation take on large dimensions.

In the mountainous region of the Atlantic, at an elevation of 800 to 1500 meters above sea level, the vegetation is characteristic of a rainforest. On the Central Plateau, it is dry and fewer trees grow there, but there is a proliferation of grass and herbaceous plants. In the higher elevations, one finds the mixed tropical forest.

Costa Rica is extraordinarily blessed with fauna. The numbers and diversity of animal species found here is incredible. Depending on where you go, you have the possibility of observing Quetzals, 5 or 6 species de toucans, tapirs, deer, ant eaters, sloths, monkeys, white nosed coatis, otters, opossums, jaguars, ocelots, pumas, mountain lions, macaws and many more.

Beyond the above mentioned species, the wilderness is the home to nearly 13,000 species of plants, more than 2,000 species of butterflies, 4,500 species of moths, 163 species of amphibians, 220 species of reptiles, 1,600 species of freshwater and salt water fish and 850 species of birds and more.

The Capital

San José is the capital of the Republic of Costa Rica. It is the government seat for the Province of San José. This city is the political and financial center of the country and is where more than half of businesses and services for the country are found. It was named in honor of Joseph of Nazareth, adoptive father of Jesus of Nazareth. Same as the founding cantons of the country, the central canton of San José was founded on December 7th, 1848.

The population grew between 1737 and 1738, and it became the capital of the country in 1823. This is a city with an interesting mixture of history and modern times. Even though the most central part of town is almost uninhabited, it has become a place where over one million people pass through during the day generating traffic gridlock and increasing pollution levels.

Despite these problems, the studies that have covered all the cities of Latin America continue to place San José as one of the safest and least violent cities of the region. In 2006, it was acclaimed as the Cultural Capital of Latin America.

The Provinces

Costa Rica is divided into 7 provinces that are then subdivided into 81 cantones (or counties). These are further subdivided into 463 Districts.

  Province Canton Districts Area (km²)
1 Alajuela 15 108 9,757.53
2 Cartago 8 48 3,124.67
3 Guanacaste 11 59 10,140.71
4 Heredia 10 46 2,656.98
5 Limón 6 27 9,188.52
6 Puntarenas 11 57 11,265.69
7 San José 20 118 4,965.90

Money

The Costa Rican Colon is the legal currency of the country. They are issue bills for a face value of ₵20,000 , ₵10,000, ₵ 5,000, ₵2,000, and ₵1,000 colones, as well as coins with a face value of ₵500, ₵100, ₵50, ₵25, ₵ 20, ₵10 and₵ 5 colones each.

  • Money Exchange: One can exchange currency in all banks (most open from 8:30AM to 3:00PM or 5:00PM) as well as in Money Exchange Offices.
  • It is recommended to come to Costa Rica with US dollars, since it is the reference Exchange rate for the country. Commercial banks in Costa Rica will only Exchange US dollars. Other foreign currencies such as the Euro tend to be more complicated and require a trip to the Central Bank of Costa Rica.
  • International credit cards: The use of credit cards such as a Master Card or Visa is common and there are no problems with using these in Costa Rica. Most cities have ATM’s.
  • Tips: There is no need to tip in restaurants as a 10% tip is included in your bill plus a 13% sales tax. However, you can add a 5-10% for exceptional service. You should tip a dollar per bag to those who carry your suitcases and you should leave between $1 and $5 per night to the cleaning staff .

Airports

The Juan Santamaría International Airport is the main airport in Costa Rica. It is located in the Province of Alajuela, 18 Km outside the city of San José. The airport is named after Juan Santamaría, a Costa Rican national hero due to his participation in the national campaign of 1856-1857 against the Filibuster William Walker.

The airport has won several prizes such as third best airport within its category and fourth best airport in America in general category.

The Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport, also known as the Liberia International Airport, is one of the four international airports in Costa Rica. This airport is located in the northeast part of Costa Rica in Liberia, the capital of Guanacaste Province. It is about 217Km northeast of the capital San Jose and it works mainly as a focal point for the growing number of tourists who come to enjoy the excellent climate and grandiose beaches found in the Nicoya Peninsula. The arrival to the Liberia International Airport is the fastest way to reach places such as Tamarindo, Playa Negra, Golfo de Papagayo, Mal País, Playa Flamingo, Playa Samara and the Baulas National Marine Park.

The Airport was named in honor of a prior President of Costa Rica (1974-1978), Daniel Oduber Quirós. It was his idea to build this airport in this region and he was also a strong proponent of expansion and development of Guanacaste. This international airport was inaugurated in 1995 with a commercial flight from Miami, Florida.

  • Taxi from the airport to San José: US$12-$17
  • Buses Alajuela-San José (5am-10pm) these stop at the airport every half-hour.
  • Exit tax: US$26.00

Inmigration

If you wish to come to Costa Rica you must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond your expected stay. The entry requirements are:

  • A passport valid for 6 months upon entering the country
  • Return ticket

Generalities

  • Capital: San José
  • Currency: Colón
  • Official language: Spanish, however a very good percent of the population speaks English.
  • Time Zone: EST-1;GMT-6
  • Country Code: (506)
  • Borders: North – Nicaragua, Southeast – Panama, West – Pacific Ocean and East – Caribbean Sea.
  • Land length : 51.100 km2
  • Maximum length: 464 Km. from the Sapoá River to Burica Point
  • Minimum length: 119 Km. from Tuba to Boca del Colorado
  • Maximum width: 259 Km. from Cape Santa Elena to Boca del Río Colorado River Mouth of the Colorado River).
  • Highest Mountain: Mount Chirripó (3.820 m above sea level)
  • Widest Crater: Poás Volcano (one of the largest craters in the world; it is 1 km in diameter)
  • National Flower: Guaria Morada (Guarianthe skinneri also known as Cattleya skinneri)
  • National Tree: Guanacaste (Enterolobium cyclocarpurri)
  • National Bird: Yigüirro or Clay colored thrush or robin (tardus grayil)
  • Weather: tropical with two seasons: dry (December to April) and rainy (the rest of the year)
  • Population: 4.159.758 inhabitants
  • Population by sex: Male 2.112.985 (50.79%) and Female 2.046.773 (49.20%)
  • Subdivisions: 7 Provinces, 81 Cantons, 463 Districts.
  • Electricity: 110 volts
  • Quality of the water: 98% drinkable
  • Telephony: Costa Rica has a great telephone system that belongs to the government. In the all territory you can find a public phone.
  • Postal System: Central Post Office of Costa Rica.
  • Roads: The country has paved roads that allow travel around the country, and also travel truth Central America. Costa Rica has secondary roads as well.
  • Public transportation: Costa Rica’s taxis are red, airport taxi’s are orange. The service of buses is really safe and travels around the country.
  • Banking: You can use all the bank services, public or private. The schedule is between 08:30 am to 05:00 pm.

Official Holidays

  • January 1: New Year’s Day
  • April 11: Juan Santamaría Day (national war hero)
  • May 1: International Workers’ Day
  • July 25: Annexation of Guanacaste
  • August 15: Mother’s Day
  • September 15: Independence Day
  • December 25: Christmas
  • Holy Thursday and Holy Friday: Holy Week

Highlights about Costa Rica

  1. Costa Rica is one of the 20 countries with most biodiversity in the world.
  2. 51.100 km2 of total land (0,03% of the world)
  3. 5% of the world’s biodiversity
  4. 589,000 km2 of territorial waters
  5. The Tropical Rainforest is the richest ecosystem in biodiversity on the planet. There is also the Cloud Forest and the Tropical Dry Forest.
  6. Costa Rica has been included amongst the 9 countries with the highest biodiversity in the ecosystems forests.
  7. More than 500,000 species (13 thousand species of plants, 4500 species of butterflies and 2000 species of moths, 220 species of reptiles, 1600 species of fish and more) are found here.
  8. 4% of all the known species of the world are found here.
  9. There are more than 850 species of birds. On December 17th, 2009, the Ornithology Association of Costa Rica announced the discovery of 5 new bird species here.
  10. Costa Rica’s 10 wetlands have been declared as Ramsar Sites (Wetlands of Importance). Three of these have the category of being wildlife refuges and one is a national park.
  11. Twenty five percent of its territory is dedicated to 22 National Parks, 10 National Wildlife Refuges, 12 Biological Reserves, 8 Forest Reserves and 26 protected areas.
  12. Costa Rica has been named the “Happiest Country of the World” according to its rating by the “Happy Planet Index “of July 6th, 2009 who announced that Costa Rica tops the Index.
  13. Costa Rica is ranked 7th in its ability to attract investments from the Latin American countries according to a study done by the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (CEPAL).
  14. Costa Rica received an award for its sustainable tourism program on June 12th, 2008, during the Third Virtual Congress of Latin American Competitiveness Enterprise and Tourism which was attended by 707 countries.
  15. A Latin American Security Index written by FTI Consulting for Ibero America and published in the Latin Business Chronicle on May 25th, 2009, named Costa Rica as the safest country in Latin America.
  16. The Environmental Performance Indicator (EPI) performed a study and rated Costa Rica as one of the cleanest countries in the world on May 25th, 2009.

Links

Costa Rica Guide - Real estate listings and general information about Costa Rica.

FSBO Costa Rica - For sale by owner real estate in Costa Rica.