If your next Costa Rica vacations are coming and now you are wondering about the most important things to know about this country, here you have a brief guide that we hope can help you understand better this little piece of paradise.
Costa Rica is a tiny Central America country, bordered by Nicaragua to the north and Panamá to the southeast. It has 51,100 km2 of area, which represents only about 0.1% of the world's land mass but contains 5% of the world's biodiversity. Its territory is divided into seven provinces, with San José as the capital province.
The GAM, or Great Metropolitan Area, include the provinces of Heredia, Cartago, Alajuela and San José. This conglomerate concentrates more than 50% of the total population in just 4% of the national territory; further, it contains 70% of the country’s vehicular fleet which means that you have to take into account the hours of more traffic (peak hours) to avoid large traffic jams. Peak traffic hours in this area occur between 7am and 9am and 4pm and 7pm.
In addition, you must know that Spanish is the official language, even though English is spoken in tourist areas throughout the country.
How Safe is Travel to Costa Rica?
One of the most common questions people have is, how safe is travel to Costa Rica? Well, you may want to know that this country has been named as one of the best destinations for solo travelers thanks to the safety that is experienced here. People usually can walk around even at nights, the water is safe to drink in all areas of the country and Costa Ricans are always ready to help any tourist who need directions or any advice.
But of course, even when Costa Rica is a stable and welcoming country, you should be aware of some basic safety precautions while you are here, such as:
- Carry a passport copy with you all the time.
- Do not bring large amounts of cash if you are going out for a walk.
- If you rent a car, do not leave valuables in it.
- Be always aware of the people around you.
In case you have an emergency or an accident, you can always call 911; or if you think that is not necessary, you can ask for help to the people of your hotel, your guide, your driver or you can call your travel agency.
Also, embassies are a good support in case you have special formalities or you need legal advisement, for example. As it is a touristic country, in Costa Rica are located the embassies of many of the main countries from which tourists are received such as United States, United Kingdom, China, Germany, France, among others.
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Weather in Costa Rica
One of the most important things to take into account when you are traveling to Costa Rica is the weather, as in this country the variety of micro-climates will determine what you need and don’t need to pack. In general, sun will rise around 5:30 am and will set around 5:30 pm and there are only two defined seasons: dry season (called “verano”) and rainy season (called “invierno”). The dry season goes from December to April and the rainy season goes from May to November, with September and October being the wettest.
Packing a sweater, a poncho, a hat, sunglasses, sunblock, repellent and tennis shoes it’s always a good idea!
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International & Domestic Airports
Costa Rica has two international airports: Juan Santamaría, located in the Central Valley; and Daniel Oduber, located in Liberia, Guanacaste. Citizens of the United States, Canada and most western European and Latin America nations do not need a visa to enter Costa Rica. In fact, U.S. citizens planning to stay fewer than 90 days can enter the country with a valid ID, a copy of their birth certificate, and a tourist card that can be obtained from their airline when they depart the United States.
Besides, the country has a variety of local airstrip where internal flights operate. Regular scheduled flights and private charters can be booked in order to save travel time.
Travel Tip: A departure tax of USD$29 per person must be paid by anyone leaving the country by air. This fee is included in the airline ticket since December 3rd, 2014; but it was not always that way so, if you bought your ticket before this date you must pay this fee directly at the airport before leaving. Also, if you are doing just a connection here and you don't pass the international arrival area you don't have to pay this fee."
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Money Exchange Rate & Value
US dollars are widely accepted in Costa Rica, especially at touristic places like hotels and restaurants—in fact, some places even list their prices in US dollars to make it easier for international travelers. For smaller services such as local meals, supermarkets or public transportation, be prepared to pay with colones. Credit cards are accepted in almost all places too and even by some taxi drivers (VISA and Mastercard are the most widely accepted), although most credit cards include a transaction fee for international purchases.
ATMs (known as cajeros automáticos) are also widely available in Costa Rica, even in the smallesttowns. You can use ATMs to get US dollars, but when you use them to get local currency (colones) you will receive a good exchange rate for your US$ or Euros.
Besides, there is a 13% tax on all purchases in Costa Rica, including souvenirs and hotels; and a 10% gratitude fee in restaurants is appropriate but most of the times it will be added to your bill. You don’t have to tip on top of this, but it’s good practice to do so, because the 10% fee is split among many people. If you want to tip your waiter directly, leave more money on the table.
You may want to tip other people while in Costa Rica, including maids, bellboys, or drivers. Tips for these services usually range from US$1 to US$10 a day. Taxi drivers do not expect a tip.
Costa Rica Exchange Rate: $1 = 540 Colones (Ranging from 530 Colones to 545 Colones)
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Internet & Prepaid Cell Phones
It’s important for you to know that most of the hotels offer wireless internet connection without any cost (or for a very low service fee). Also, some restaurants and minivans offer Wi-Fi signals. In some remote regions of Costa Rica such as Corcovado or Tortuguero, lodges cannot offer this service.
If it’s necessary for you, pre-paid SIMs can be purchased at the international airports and about a million other locations country-wide. Pre-Paid SIMs can be recharged at the same million locations all over the country, so using a pre-paid SIM is a pretty simple deal. Using a PrePaid SIM in Costa Rica means you must have a quad band unlocked cell phone. The vast majority of US cell phones are NOT unlocked and some (maybe many) are not quad band. They are locked to the company providing the cell service and a pre-paid SIM here will not work.
Travel Tip: We recommend you acquire any Cell Phone or Prepaid Sim Card in one Kölbi Store (you can identify them for the frog sign), because this is the company supported by I.C.E government's institution. There's also other telephonic companies such as Claro and Movistar where you can buy this services.
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Health Care Information for Travelers
Health care in Costa Rica is very good and sanitary standards are high. Top quality hospitals are found throughout San José and some of the other touristic areas or with a large populations.
Something important to know is that anyone entering Costa Rica from certain South American countries, including Colombia, Brazil and Ecuador, must provide a yellow fever vaccination certificate. This is also necessary when traveling to Costa Rica from African nations where yellow fever is present.
Typical Food and Restaurants (Cuisine)
First thing you need to know is that in most of the country it is absolutely safe to drink water from the tap, this means that you don’t have to spend a lot of money in bottled water. You will also find water dispensers in most of the hotels and restaurants, so bring your own bottle from home and save the planet!
Regarding the food, in Costa Rica there is a typical breakfast dish named “Gallo Pinto”, composed of pre-cooked rice and beans, mixed together with spices such as cilantro, onion and peppers; and a typical lunch dish named “Casado”, that usually include rice, beans, meat (beef, chicken or fish), vegetables and salad.
Vegetables and fruits are very common in Costa Rica’s cuisine.
One of the best ways to experience the local cuisine is eating in the small roadside restaurants known as “sodas”. These are usually very economic and serve very good quality food. Besides, there are also a lot of restaurants of international cuisine (Chinese, Italian, Mexican…) and almost all fast-food chains such as McDonalds, Wendys, Friday’s, Denny’s ,Quizno's, Smashburger, Chili's, Popeyes, Carl Jr.'s, Cosi, Applebee's, Starbucks & many more.
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Moving Around in Costa Rica
- Pedestrians: It’s very important to take into accounts that in Costa Rica, pedestrians not always have the ”right of way”. In high traffic hours and big highways it’s always better if you make sure that cars are stopping at pedestrian traffic lights before you cross the street.
- Bus: Public transportation in Costa Rica is economical and convenient. Short trips (3 hours approximately) are about $3 USD, while longer trips are no more than $15 USD.
- Taxi: Taxis must be painted red and have a yellow triangle printed on the doors; also, they have a meter to prove they meet legal operating requirements. If the taxi lacks either of these, do not risk a ride. In Costa Rica, there are also illegal taxis and these does not have any kind of meter or insurance, which can be a risk for you in case of accidents.
- Driving: You can rent a car while in Costa Rica, just take into account that you will need to make a mandatory deposit by credit card of $1000 approximately. In addition, the minimum age is 21 years old and you need a current valid driver’s license that will be valid for 90 days here. A GPS is always recommended in order to avoid getting lost in some routes, but also Waze Navigation App is very common in Costa Rica and will help you a lot avoiding traffic and saving travel time.
- Flying (Internal Flights): Regular scheduled flights or private charters can be booked from and to the different airstrips located in the main touristic destinations of the country. For regular flights is very important to be aware of the maximum luggage allowances.
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Most Popular Costa Rica Attractions
Are you coming to Costa Rica and want to know which places you shouldn't miss? Well, that’s difficult. In Costa Rica there is a variety of beautiful places to visit, from rainforest to beaches and from the Pacific to the Caribbean….reasons to visit Costa Rica are endless.
Here is our Top 5 most popular attractions:
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Best Costa Rica Vacations Tours
Why do people visit Costa Rica? Because all the adventure, nature and relaxing activities that can be done while you are here! Here is our Top 5 tours that cannot be missed in your next Costa Rica vacations:
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All Inclusive Vacation Packages
Last but not least. One of the most valuable travel tips you need to know when traveling to Costa Rica is that with a vacation package, holiday planning will be even easier. From all-inclusive vacation packages perfect for families to honeymoon vacation packages perfect for romantic escapes, everything can be arranged in order to plan your dream vacations.
Read our blog to know more about how to choose the best vacation package for you!
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