Costa Rica Travel Guide

In this guide, you will find everything you need to know of Costa Rica, and to prepare for the trip of your dreams.

Useful Info

1. Tourist Information:

The Costa Rican Tourism Institute (ICT) has 5 offices: Juan Santamaría International Airport, Culture Square at the entrance to the Gold Museum, ICT Central Headquarters in Uruca in front of the Juan Pablo Segundo Bridge, on the border with Nicaragua and in the Border with Panama. The offices have opening hours of 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. The telephone of the central is 2299-5800, or the 800 free tourism line. These offices provide information such as addresses, schedules, maps, brochures and much more information of interest.

2. Services Available:

Airlines, travel agencies, car rental, shuttle services and tourist transportation, restaurants, hotels of all kinds, banks, supermarkets, shops, acceptance of the most recognized credit cards and all public services such as transportation, telecommunications, will facilitate Your visit to this charming country.

3. Transportation:

There is a car rental service available in the cities and main tourist areas. Off-road vehicles are the most recommended, due to the evident mountainous geography and soil moisture that keeps some roads in conditions uncommon for tourists from other latitudes.

Shuttle Transfer Services that are Transfers with more people in minibusses with capacity for no more than 8 people.

Private Transportation Service by minibus with capacity for no more than 8 people, with a bilingual driver.

There is also air service in small mono and twin-engine aircraft with daily connections between the main tourist destinations and with reasonable rates compared to the time that will save you traveling by land. They can even be rented for private use.

For some connections between one destination and another it is possible to transport public service, however, these are subject to routes and departures with fixed schedules. Sometimes comfort is not safe because of the number of people who can travel.

4. How to find an address?

 In the center of San José, the streets go from north to south and the avenues from east to west. The streets that go to the east of the Central Street are odd numbers and the ones that go to the west are even numbers. The avenues that go towards the north of the Central Avenue have odd numbers and those that go to the south, even numbers. The number of streets and avenues is difficult to find, only the oldest buildings keep it on the corner wall.

For tourists, the way to give directions in Costa Rica is a dilemma, because lacking street names and lettering, it becomes a little complex to understand. The ticos use as reference the colors of houses, the type of structure (two floors, wood, cement or bricks), trees and garden plants (bougainvillea, palm trees, almonds, and mangoes), and do not wonder if they are named A cow, or a spotted dog. That is why we say that we give the directions "to the ethics".

Costa Ricans are known as educated, friendly and cooperative people. Do not hesitate to ask directions or help a tico. You will surely stop and spend more time than you imagined.

5. Office hours and shops:

Government offices, embassies, and consulates are open from 8am to 4pm The Immigration office in La Uruca closes at 3pm Banks have a schedule from 9 am to 3 pm Other shops like shops usually have a continuous day of 8 Am to 7 pm In the city there are supermarkets open even until midnight.

6. Banking and Currency:

The official currency is the Colon. The bills have denominations of ¢ 1000, ¢ 2000, ¢ 5000, ¢ 10000, ¢ 20000 and ¢ 50000. While the coins are of ¢ 5, ¢ 10, ¢ 25, ¢ 50, ¢ 100 and ¢ 500. The exchange rate is variable in relation to the US dollar, which can be changed in banks. In 2016 the value of a dollar has varied between ¢ 540 and ¢ 546 colones. The vast majority of tourist shops accept the dollars. With regard to credit cards, Visa and MasterCard are the most accepted by businesses; American Express has less acceptance. However, take into account that in rural areas these services are very limited, as sometimes there is no payment service with credit card.

7. Electricity and water:

The electricity is 110 volts, AC. The connectors and plugs are American style. In some rural areas, there is no electricity, some having the option of own generators or solar energy. The water is potable in almost all the country, counting on ASADAS (communal organizations that watch over the supply of this resource and its protection).

8. Health services:

Costa Rica is a country with a high level of health and social insurance services where no national or foreign person is denied medical care. The Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social or "La Caja" has a wide network of hospitals, clinics and EBAIS (Basic Health Care Integral Care Units), distributed throughout the country. Also, in the main population centers, you will find clinics and private hospitals.

9. Emergencies:

It also uses the 911 service, which connects with firefighters, Red Cross, police, transit and other relevant entities.

10. Postal mail:

There are post offices in almost all the population centers. The Central Post Office of Costa Rica is in San José on Calle 2, between Avenues 1 and 3. The telegraph service is also provided.

11. Taxes and tips:

To all hotels, by law they are required to collect the Sales Tax (13%). Restaurants also by law must charge 13% Sales Tax and 10% of the Service Tax that is distributed internally among the salons and waitresses of the establishment (this is equivalent to what in other countries call a tip). However, if you have received exceptional service, it is your decision to recognize it with an extra incentive.

12. Entry and visa:

Citizens of the United States, Canada, Europe, along with most Latin American and Central American countries, do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica. For more information, as well as the other countries, you can see on the website of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs: http://www.rree.go.cr/

13. Your identification:

Always carry your passport or a legible copy of the first pages and the one where the stamp of entry to the country is stamped. The passport must be at least 6 months valid. The copy is not valid for transactions in banks.

14. Airdrop:

Be sure to confirm your flight 72 hours in advance. On the day of departure, you must arrive at the Airport 3 hours before the departure time of your flight. Remember that every traveler by air must pay $ 29 of the Exit Tax of the country. However, when buying your air ticket check if this amount is already included in the ticket price.

15. Crafts and souvenirs:

There are numerous souvenir shops in San Jose and in the more developed tourist towns and villages, offering handcrafted wood, woven, ceramic, as well as jewelry (pre-Columbian designs in gold and silver) and leather goods. Also, the city of Moravia (20 minutes northeast of San Jose) is well known for its small and well-stocked craft shops. Also, an hour northwest of San José, and in the province of Alajuela, lies the town of Sarchí, famous for its typical hand-painted carts and the particular way of carving the wood.

16. Nightlife and entertainment:

San Jose and major cities and tourist towns offer entertainment when the sun goes down. From nightclubs that offer modern musical styles as well as the desirable tropical rhythms of salsa, merengue, cumbia, tico criollo swing, reggae, and calypso to concerts of classical music, ballet, modern dance, theater and cinemas. Although not in the same way, the rural areas also have their own proposal and nocturnal charm, with the sound of crickets, frogs, owls and other singular interpreters. It may be that, if you like this type of entertainment, be lucky and come to one of these villages at parties.

17. Restaurants and Meals:

There are for all tastes, French, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Mexican, Thai, Argentine, Lebanese and of course, the typical and delicious Costa Rican cuisine. There are elegant restaurants, where the creations of the chef have nothing to envy to those of the great cosmopolitan cities.

There are also the most popular fast food chains. Dare also to enter these small restaurants that we call "sodas", many located along the roads, where we assure you that you will eat the most exquisite Costa Rican dishes at very comfortable prices (maximum $ 7 a full meal). Here the cooks will offer you the "dish of the day" and the "married", which are huge dishes with meat or fish, vegetables, minced meat, salad and of course, rice and beans. You will be amazed at the cleanliness that these places have, just look at the impeccable cooks' aprons and cloths.

18. Climate:

Costa Rica is a tropical country located between two oceans and with a complex geography that originates varied climatic conditions and gives rise to zones of life that go from the dry tropical forest to the páramo. Temperatures generally range between 14 and 22 degrees Celsius. Although there are no defined climatic seasons in the country and the climate of each region remains relatively stable throughout the year, there are slight changes depending on the season of "summer" (dry season) or "winter" (rainy season). The "summer" season is usually from December to April and the "winter" season from May to November.

19. Language:

As in every country, the use of language is always different even if it is a single language. In Costa Rica, we speak mostly Spanish, but there are also other native and introduced languages. Do not hesitate to ask when a word is not familiar or does not appear in your dictionary, because sometimes it exceeds the language "pachuco", as it is called in Costa Rica to the popular language and not recognized by the Spanish Royal Academy.

20. Adventure and Entertainment:

To define Costa Rica you have to look for adjectives that refer to nature, unexplored spaces, and adventure.

For lovers of so-called ecotourism activities, Costa Rica is the ideal destination since there is a wide offer for excursions to the most interesting and hidden places never before imagined. Exploring the more than twenty Natural Parks, the eight Biological Reserves, Protected Areas that reach more than one million hectares or the beautiful Guayabo area in Turrialba declared National Monument, can become a real pleasure. Here indescribable landscapes, rich in endemic flora and fauna abound. The adventure of exploring is an experience that is hardly forgotten.

21. Holidays

In Costa Rica the fiestas are a constant and a delight, since to the color of them the joy and sympathy of the Costa Ricans, always ready to dance and to the celebration, is united.

On January 1st, the beginning of the New Year is celebrated.

On March 19, the day of San José, patron of the country and, of course, his capital that dresses up for his Fiesta Mayor.

In the months of April or March (depending on the year), during a week, Holy Week is fervently followed, since most of the population is Catholic, with processions, Via Crucis and other religious acts of interest.

April 11 is the day of Juan Santamaría, a national hero in the Battle of Rivas that took place in 1856 and that confronted him with William Walker.

May 1 is commemorated, as in most of the world, on Labor Day.

June 29 is St. Peter's and St. Paul's Day.

July 25 is a very special day, it is the Day of Guanacaste, which commemorates the annexation to the country of the Province of Guanacaste that formerly belonged to Nicaragua.

August 2 is the Virgin of the Angels, patroness of Costa Rica and the 15 of the same month The Asunción. Just a month later, September 15 is Independence Day, a day in which the whole country dresses up to celebrate.

On October 12, the Discovery of America is commemorated with the popular Day of the Race.

In December there are two celebrations: 8 The Immaculate Conception and 25 on Christmas Day. On December 31 the people of Costa Rica will wait for New Year's Eve, to receive the new year, between drink, food, music and dance.

22. Media

TV

There are channels that transmit in Spanish and English, as well as the cable system in both languages. Some hotels have a satellite signal.

Radio

A large number of radio stations operate in both A.M. As in F.M., at the national level.

Newspapers

Five newspapers are published daily and there are several weekly newspapers in Spanish, as well as weekly and monthly publications in English. In addition, magazines are published with varied and useful information.

23. Government

For being a democratic republic its political system is divided into three powers:

Executive Power: President of the Republic, elected by direct suffrage, every four years, can be reelected after eight years. Two Vice-Presidents. A Presidential Cabinet composed of 18 Ministers of State, who assume economic, social, productive and cultural portfolios. Legislative Branch: composed of 57 deputies (popular representatives, responsible for enactment of laws). Judicial Branch: it forms a Supreme Court, which consists of four Chambers. Likewise, it is composed by the Superior Courts and Courts in each subject.

According to the provisions of the Constitution of Costa Rica, the Supreme Electoral Tribunal, independent of the Powers of the Republic, is in charge of organizing, directing and supervising the electoral processes held every four years.

24. Religion

Catholicism is the official religion, but freedom of worship is guaranteed.

Churches

Almost all Costa Ricans practice the Christian faith in the Catholic Church. Thus, within a considerable number of religious prayer houses, Catholics stand out for their numbers and for the effort that the communities put in to build and maintain them as well as possible. Hence the country has several that are worth mentioning. The temples are usually located in what was in the colonial era the Plaza Mayor and with its main gate heading west. We will highlight the Metropolitan Cathedral, in San José, the Church of San Isidro de Coronado in Gothic style, located a few kilometers from San José, the Basilica of Our Lady of the Angels (Province of Carthage) consecrated National Patron. We have preserved some temples built in colonial times like Orosi, Quircot, Nicoya and Heredia. In the first one is installed an important religious museum, which is in charge of the religious order. All of them and more are part of our great National Heritage.

Important Information

See the following topics for information on Costa Rica: