Within Costa Rica’s 51,200 square kilometers there is a wider variety of species of birds than in all of Europe or North America. With a relatively small population of roughly three and a half million inhabitants, Costa Rica also boasts of one of the oldest and more consolidated democracies in Latin America. In 1869, primary education for both sexes was declared obligatory and free of cost, defrayed by the State. In 1882 the death sentence was abolished. In the 1949 the armed forces were abolished and in 1983 Perpetual Neutrality was proclaimed. Prestigious international human rights organizations have their headquarters in Costa Rica. Because of this, and of its lush 1500 kilometers of tropical sun-bathed beaches and the wild diversity of flora and fauna to be found in its wide array of microclimates (most present in one or more of its National Parks), Costa Rica has justifiably earned its reputation of paradise regained.
Costa Rica’s microclimates vary from the barren cold volcanic tundra to the exotic cloud forest, from the deep dense jungle of Talamanca to the tropical dry forests of Guanacaste, from quiet gold-hued beaches where the Baulas Tortoises build their nests to the winding Tortuguero Canals where the crocodile is king. Even so, Costa Rica’s overall climate can be best described as mild. Being located within the tropics, seasonal changes in Costa Rica are not as dramatic as they are in countries on other latitudes. There is a ‘dry” season (equivalent to summer and spring) during which temperatures hover pleasantly in the high 60’s to low 70’s (20 –23 degrees C), which goes from December to May, and a “wet” season from June to November during which mornings are usually sunny and showers might be expected in the afternoon. On areas near the coasts, temperatures may be as much as ten degrees higher, where as at Chirripó Peak, the highest mountain in Costa Rica (3800 meters), temperatures may drop down to the freezing point. Tourists should bring light clothes: a jacket and a raincoat is all the protection you’ll need unless you plan to go hiking in the higher mountains.
Costa Rica is six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which is equivalent to Central Time in North America. There is no daylight saving time.
Costa Rica’s official language is Spanish. On the Caribbean Coast a small minority of Jamaican descendants speak a local version of English, and most Costa Ricans can understand and speak a bit of English. Quite recently all public schools made mandatory the learning of a second language.
As in the rest of Latin America, Roman Catholicism is Costa Rica’s main religion, but there is a very wide margin of tolerance and the constitutional freedom of creed is always respected. Costa Rica’s religions by percentage of practicing members: Roman Catholic 76.3%, Evangelical 13.7%, Jehovah’s Witnesses 1.3%, other Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8%, none 3.2%.
Costa Rica is a civil law country which means that the organization of the legal system is derived from the French Napoleonic Code as opposed to English common law. The Government of Costa Rica has 4 branches: The Judicial, Executive – President and cabinet ministers, Legislative – Elected members and Electoral Tribunal – takes over police and all government functions dealing with elections before each election. Members are usually unpaid volunteers who are judges. This is to ensure all elections are completely democratic and free.
The national currency is the colon and dollars are easily exchanged at all banks, other foreign currency can be exchanged through private agencies. All mayor credit cards as well as travelers checks are widely accepted. The colon exchanges at 460 per dollar (as of March 2005) and can be expected to increment by 0,17 on average per day.
The standard in Costa Rica is the same as in the United States: 110 volts AC (60 cycles). However, three-pronged outlets can be scarce, so it’s helpful to bring along an adapter.
Most banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 3:30pm, although many have begun to offer extended hours. Offices are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm (many close for 1 hr. at lunch). Stores are generally open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm (many close for 1 hr. at lunch).
There are postal and telegraph offices in cities and villages throughout the country. The Central Post Office is located in San José on Second Street between Avenues 1 and 3, and is open Monday through Friday from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m., and Saturdays from 7 a.m. to 12 noon. Radiográfica Costarricense is located on Fifth Avenue between Streets 1 and 3. This company provides telex, fax, international data transmission, and many other services (including Internet access). The country code for Costa Rica is 506, and there is no area code inside the country.
- International Air Transportation: Most air traffic to and from Costa Rica is handled through the Juan Santamaría Airport, located 29 minutes from San José, in the city of Alajuela.
- Domestic Air Transportation: All flights leave from the International Juan Santamaría Airport or the Tobías Bolaños Airport. There is a network of internal airports which not only serve important cities, but special interest tourist areas. Among the most important are: Liberia, Palmar Sur, Tamarindo, Barra del Colorado, Limón, Quepos, Golfito, Coto 47, etc. From the Tobías Bolaños Airport, located to the west of the capital city, private airlines offer flights to most areas of the country.
- Domestic Bus Service: The country, in general, offers adequate bus service. The majority are private companies which link San José with the principal provincial towns and cities, seaports and tourist areas. With good-quality vehicles and frequent itineraries, the user can easily travel by bus throughout the country. In the main cities and villages nationwide, there are taxicab companies that service the user to the more remote places in the country. Four-wheel drive vehicles are typical for the rural areas.
- International Bus Service: Leaving from San José, there is bus service to Central America and Panama. The companies: TICA BUS, SIRCA and TRACOPA have scheduled trips to Panama, Nicaragua and other countries.
- Automobile Circulation: Costa Rica has a good highway network, the majority of which, for tourist use, is paved. In most places there are adequate traffic signs. In the major highways there are toll booths (San José-San Ramón, San José-Guápiles, San José-Cartago, San José-Ciudad Colón). Throughout the country there are many gas stations, some of which offer round-the-clock service. Costa Rica does not have self-service gas stations.
- Driver Requirements: A foreigner may drive with a current license from his country of origin and his passport, during the three months that his tourist visa is valid. Warning triangles should be carried at all times by all drivers, and seat belts are also required for drivers and front-seat passengers. The use of helmets for motorcycle conductors is required.
Click here for a complete list of foreign embassies and consulates.
With a valid passport and round trip or continuing ticket, citizens of the United States of America, Canada, Germany, Spain and Italy can travel to Costa Rica for a 90-day stay without a consular visa. To stay legally beyond the period granted, travelers will need to submit an application for an extension to the Office of Temporary Permits in the Costa Rican Department of Immigration. Tourist visas are usually not extended except under special circumstances, such as academic, employment, or medical grounds, and extension requests are evaluated on a case-by-case basis. There is a departure tax for short-term visitors. Tourists who stay over ninety days without receiving a formal extension can expect to pay a higher departure tax at the airport or land border, and may experience some delay at the airport. Persons who have overstayed previously may be denied entry to Costa Rica.
As of this time, Costa Rica does not require visitors to have any particular vaccinations, although you should make sure that all your normal vaccinations are up to date.
Any foreigner who is temporarily in the country has the right to receive health attention at hospitals and clinics in case of an emergency, sudden illness or a chronic disease. Costa Rica boasts a modern and renown medical health system, under the administration of the Caja Costarricense de Seguro Social (CCSS)…more information.
Costa Rica has a 911 system for reporting emergencies. Crimes that are no longer in progress should be reported in person at the nearest police station. In the event of a traffic accident, vehicles must be left where they are, and not moved out of the way. Both the Tránsito (Traffic Police) and the Insurance Investigator must make accident reports before the vehicles are moved. Although sometimes slow to respond after notification, these officials will come to the accident scene.
Emergency telephone numbers:
- Emergencies ———-911 (Metropolitan area)
- Fire Department and Rescue Units ———-118
Traffic Police ———-2222-9330/ 2222-9245
- Police Department ———-117
- Rural Police Department ———-127
Red Cross ———-128
- Airports Juan Santamaría International Airport Phone ———-2441-0744.
- Limón International Airport . Phone ———-2758-1379
- Tobías Bolaños International Airport. Phone ———-2232-2820
- Daniel Oduber Quiros International Airport (Liberia, Guanacaste) ———-Phone: 2666-0695
- Ministry of Economic Industry & Commerce: www.meic.go.cr
- Ministry of Foreign Affairs: www.rree.go.cr
- Ministry of Public Security: www.msp.go.cr
- Ministry of National Planning & Economic Policy: www.mideplan.go.cr
- Ministry of Agriculture: www.mag.go.cr
- Ministry of Science and Technology: www.micit.go.cr
- Ministry of Public Works: www.mopt.go.cr
- Ministry of Health: www.netsalud.sa.cr
- Ministry of Education: www.mep.go.cr
- Ministry of Justice: www.poder-judicial.go.cr
- Ministry of the Treasury: www.hacienda.go.cr
- Ministry of Culture, Youth and Sports: www.mcjdcr.go.cr
2. Other Government Sites
- Comptroller General: www.cgr.go.cr
- Office of the Attorney General: www.pgr.go.cr
- Bank and Financial Institution Regulators (SUGEF): www.sugef.go.cr
- Securities Regulation Office (SUGEVAL): www.sugeval.fi.cr
- Available in English at http://www.sugeval.fi.cr/ing/index.html
- Costa Rican Institute of Tourism: www.tourism-costarica.com (in English)
- National Insurance Institute: www.ins.go.cr
- Social Security Administration (CCSS) www.info.ccss.sa.cr
- National Emergency Comission: www.cne.go.cr
- Costa Rican Electricity Institute (ICE): www.ice.co.cr
- Central Bank of Costa Rica: www.bccr.fi.cr/flat/bccr_flat.htm