About Costa Rica

COSTA RICA- An Amazing Country.

Costa Rica is a tiny oasis of peace and prosperity in a region often plagued by civil strife.  Historical events, visionary leaders and an enlightened approach to democracy, social welfare, education and abolition of all military have contributed to the praiseworthy development of this tiny, distinctive nation.  When first discovered the country was virtually ignored for its lack of riches, but the Costa Rican people have proved that all that glitters in not gold.  Today Costa Rica, in spite of its small population, is one of the economic leaders of Central America, and a beacon of freedom and democracy to the world.

Ox carts are still in use in many areasCR01_boyerosCosta Rican’s love a fiesta!CR02_costarica_feria

Costa Rica is a country of contrast that would take years to fully explore.  It has miles of sandy beaches along the Caribbean Coast, and even more miles of sandy beaches along the Pacific Coast, yet in spite of its tiny size it soars to 3,819 meters (12,529 ft) in the mountain ranges between the coasts.  More than half the population live in the Central Valley, a relatively flat area averaging 1,000 meters (3,819 ft) above sea level, where they enjoy a moderate climate all year.  As long as you don’t want snow, you can pick your climate in Costa Rica – from hot to warm to cool to cold, or from wet to dry.

Volcano Poas in the Central ValleyCR03_volcan_poasPelicans on the Pacific CoastCR04_pelicans
Pink spoonbills – East CoastCR05_flamingosSloth – East CoastCR06_sloth

In spite of covering only about 0.03% of the earth’s surface, it contains over 4% of the world’s species of flora and fauna.  A bird watchers paradise, there are almost 1,000 species in Costa Rica.  In many areas it is easy to spot various species of monkeys, sloths, crocodiles, caiman, frogs, lizards, iguanas and many other species, and not so easy to spot the shy jaguars, ocelots, pumas and other predators.

Cayman in Tortuguero CanalsCR07_tortuguero_caymanWhite Faced Monkey – Manuel Antonio ParkCR08_WhiteFaceMonkey
Blue Morpho ButterflyCR09_BlueMorphoButterflyHummingbird chickCR10_hummingbird

FOR FIRST TIME VISITORS TO COSTA RICA: 

Arriving at the Airport

Immigration is quick and easy, although there can be lines when a number of flights arrive at the same time.  They will require your passport and the small form you fill out on the plane.  In San José an escalator descends to the baggage area where there are free luggage carts.  Your bags go through one of three X-ray machines at the exit to the baggage area where you hand over the larger customs form received on the plane.  Next are the car rental counters and the exit.  Luggage carts cannot go past the exit, but there are porters and taxi drivers to help.

Money

Costa Rica is legally a two-currency country – the Costa Rican colon (plural colones) and the US dollar.  Other currencies are not likely to be accepted.  The US dollar, while often used in legal contracts, is not commonly used for purchases – although in tourist areas they will be accepted, usually at an unfavourable exchange rate.  In more remote areas they may not be accepted.  It would be best to change US dollars to colones at the bank – the exchange rates given at the airport are decidedly unfavourable.

ATM machines are popular, particularly in the Central Valley where the major cities are.  Most beach cities and major provincial towns will have ATM machines available.  Credit cards are widely accepted, but you can always negotiate a better deal for cash, as the merchants pay a fee of around 6% on credit card sales.  Credit card sales also force them to report the sale for income tax purposes, and sales tax is withheld from part of their payment.  It is sometimes possible to negotiate up to a discount of 20% for cash, and 10% is common.

Travellers’ cheques are accepted in some tourist locations, but not a lot.  Better to change them at a bank, but expect a 1% fee for cashing them.

Costa Rican has coins in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 25, 50, 100 and 500 colones.  Most are brown in colour, but old coins are still around that are silver.  Bills are in denominations of 1,000, 2,000, 5,000, 10,000 and 20,000 colones.  A new 20,000 colones bill is expected shortly.

Water

Costa Rica has relatively high health standards.  Tap water is purified, so is no problem to drink.  There is no need to worry about the water put on your table at a restaurant, or the ice cubes in your drink. Bottled water is sold in all restaurants, bars and large or small supermarkets if you are looking for water to take with you.

Tipping

Restaurant and bar bills include a tip of 10% and usually 13% sales tax.  Many restaurants have a column that says I.V.I.  This means “Impuesto de Ventas Incluido” or sales tax included.  If it does not say that on the menu, count on your restaurant bill being 23% higher than the menu price.  An extra tip can be left for exceptional service, and if you pay in cash it is common to leave the small change.  Large tips are not part of Costa Rican culture.

Taxi drivers don’t expect a tip, but if you have some small change left over it is appreciated.

Tips for hotel porters would be the same as expected in most places – between 50¢ and $1 per bag.

 

Sales Tax

A 13% sales tax is charged on most purchases, including food and drink.  Hotel rooms include an additional tourism tax of about 3%.

 

Food

Costa Rican food is generally not spicy.  Beef, pork, chicken and fish are the staple meats, while rice and beans, fried cooking bananas (platino) and cabbage salad are staples.  The San José area has restaurants from everywhere in the world, and most of the well-known fast food chains are represented.  You can safely eat the food from restaurants and food stalls.  If you eat in local restaurants the price will be a fraction of that charged in tourist restaurants.  Many good restaurants offer discounts of up to 50% for paying with sponsoring local credit cards.

 

Crossing the Street

Be extremely careful crossing the street, particularly in the Central Valley and especially in San José.  Do not count on pedestrians rights, even in crosswalks.  Cars will take the right of way, and often do not even watch for pedestrians, only other vehicle traffic.  If you are on the curb and the light turns green, watch for cars running the yellow light, then watch for cars turning right from the street beside you – let them go before you proceed.  Crossing in the middle of the block, or against the red light is common – just wait until you are sure you can make it to the other side when there is a break in the traffic.

 

Medical

Medical and dental in Costa Rica is of high quality, and compared to Europe, the US and Canada quite inexpensive.  If you have an emergency go to your closest hospital or clinic.  If it is a state hospital operated by the CCSS (Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social – or social services) they will receive you in emergency, give you the necessary treatment and often there will be no charge – but expect a waiting line.  The major private hospitals are Hospital Cima (Tel: 2208-1000) located on the express highway near Multiplaza shopping mall between San José and Santa Ana, Clinic Biblica (2522-1000) located in downtown San José and Clinica Catolica (2246-3000) located in Guadalupe, a suburb of San José – all have excellent emergency services.  Catolica and Biblica are building hotel wings on the hospital for family of medical tourists – people coming to Costa Rica for operations.

 

Costa Rican Names

Many Latinos, including Costa Ricans, have a first name, a first last name (the father’s first last name) and a second last name (the mother’s first last name).  Business cards, directory listing and so on will often show all three names, however for alphabetic sorting or to refer to someone as Señor (Mr.), Señora (Mrs.) or Señorita (Miss) use the first last name.  No one would be referred to by his or her second last name alone.

 

Taxis

Airport taxis are coloured orange, and are not permitted to pick up passengers other than for transport to and from the airport.  Other taxis are generally red in colour, and most have a taxi sign on the roof.  They are plentiful in the major cities and relatively inexpensive.  Taxi drivers are required to use their taxi-meter (“maria” in Spanish) for the fare.  If a driver does not turn on the meter, mention it.  If he says it is broken get another taxi.  The exception to the meter rule is if the ride requires the use of an autopista, or freeway type highway.  Then the fare must be negotiated before traveling to your destination.

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