Knowing Costa Rica

Knowing Costa Rica

Costa Rica is located in Central America, occupying an area of 51,100 km2 (19,730 sq. mi.), between Nicaragua to the north and Panama to the south. It is about the size of Denmark. Costa Rica boasts one of the largest protected areas in the world, since approximately 25 percent of the national territory consists of land and marine national parks, biological reserves, and other wilderness areas. Costa Rica is home to approximately 890 bird species, of which about 600 are residents, and the rest migrate from North America during the winter, stopping in Costa Rica before continuing their journey to South America. Costa Rica is one of the most cherished tourist destinations on the planet. This small country is blessed with everything to satisfy the interests of thousands of travellers who visit each year.

The territorial division of Costa Rica includes seven provinces: San José, Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Guanacaste, Puntarenas and Limon, sandwiched between the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Caribbean Sea to the east. Together they offer an attractive tourist destination of almost unlimited possibilities.

  • General Information

    • Capital: San José
    • Currency: Colón
    • Country Code: (506)
    • Borders: Bordered to the east and northeast by the Caribbean Sea; to the west and south by the Pacific Ocean; to the southeast by Panama; and to the north by Nicaragua.
    • Land Area: 51,100 km2 (19,730 sq. mi.)
    • Maximum length: 464 km (288 miles) from the Sapoá River to Burica Point.
    • Minimum length: 119 km (74 miles) from Tuba to the mouth of the Colorado River.
    • Maximum width: 259 km (161 miles) from Cape Santa Elena to the mouth of the Colorado River.
    • Highest mountain: Mt. Chirripó (altitude 3,820 m – 12,530 feet – above sea level).
    • Widest volcanic crater: Poás Volcano (one of the largest craters in the world at 1 km – 0.62 miles – in diameter).
    • National Flower: Purple orchid (Guarianthe skinneri)
    • National Tree: Guanacaste or Elephant Ear Tree (Enterolobium cyclocarpurri)
    • National Bird: Clay-coloured thrush or robin (Tardus grayil)
    • Climate: Tropical with two annual seasons – Dry, or summer (December-April), and Rainy, or winter (May-November).
    • Population: 5,500,000 inhabitants.
    • Provinces: Seven – San José, Cartago, Heredia, Alajuela, Puntarenas, Guanacaste, Limón.
    • Electricity: 110 volts
  • 1. History

    Human settlement in Costa Rica dates back to at least the year 5000 B.C., but in comparison with the great pre-Hispanic civilizations in the Americas, the indigenous people of Costa Rica were not numerous, nor did they achieve great development.
    The current Constitution of November 7, 1949, defines Costa Rica as a Democratic Republic. With the abolition of the army in 1948, Costa Rica has consolidated its commitment to peace and democracy. National forces are its only security. Instead of spending on troops and weapons, Costa Rica has invested those resources in health and education. This landmark decision has created a peaceful and pacifist country.

  • 2. Cuisine

    Cuisine in Costa Rica is easy to digest and is not spicy. Local dishes are mainly based on rice and beans. The typical breakfast is called “Gallo Pinto” (“spotted rooster”), a tasty mix of white rice, black beans and spices, served with fried or scrambled eggs. Lunch and dinner for Costa Ricans consists of rice, beans, fried plantains, vegetables, salad and either fish, chicken or meat, and is known as a “casado.” Costa Ricans also frequently eat seafood. Costa Rica is a paradise of fruits, which are consumed fresh, or in smoothies made with milk, or juices made with water. In almost all restaurants, you can find good quality imported wine and local and imported beers.

  • 3. Culture

    In San Jose, you can find libraries and museums renowned throughout Central America. The National Theatre is a local treasure, built by the coffee barons in 1897 as part of their vision to provide the city a suitable place for presentations by famous national and international artists. San Jose features an extensive network of galleries and theatres that ensure a constant offering of culture. Artisans all over the country produce beautiful art out of clay, fabric and fibres, wood, and other materials. Additionally, you can find traditional music and folkloric dance with colourful costumes, music of the marimba, and infectious rhythms.
    The city of San José (the country’s capital) has a lot of traffic and congestion, however, we recommend visiting these sites: the National Theatre, the Cultural Plaza, the museums of the Central Bank, the National Museum, and the Jade Museum.

  • 4. Sustainability

    The climatic diversity of Costa Rica and the government’s conservationist policies make this country a true natural paradise with a diversity of ecosystems that protect a wealth of the world’s biodiversity.
    In its little more than 51,000 square kilometres (19,730 sq. mi.), representing 0.03 percent of the planet’s surface, here lives about 5 percent of the world’s biodiversity. Costa Rica is home to five different climatic regions – dry forest, rainforest, temperate, cloud forest, and wetlands. These different environments result in multiple ecological systems that shelter numerous species of flora and fauna. The Costa Rican government has developed and maintains a dynamic policy of conservation of national parks and wildlife refuges, among other initiatives of environmental management and protection of natural and cultural resources. The Caribbean and Pacific coastlines are scenic paradises; and from north to south, down the length of the country, stretch 500 km of mountains interspersed with majestic volcanoes and gentle hills, from which flow rivers and streams that irrigate primeval forest and agricultural crops.
    In the mountainous area of the Caribbean, between 800 and 1500 m (2,625-4,920 feet) above sea level, the vegetation is characteristic of tropical rainforest, while dry forest is dominant in the North Pacific and the Central Valley; here fewer trees grow and instead grasses and herbaceous plants proliferate.
    With regard to fauna, we can say that Costa Rica has an extraordinarily large and diverse number of species that live here. Depending on the area, you have the chance to see Resplendent Quetzals, five or six species of toucans, four types of monkeys, tapirs, deer, anteaters, sloths, coatis, otters, foxes, jaguars, ocelots, pumas, Scarlet Macaws, crocodiles, and dolphins, among many other animals.
    In addition to those species, wilderness areas host approximately 13,000 kinds of plants, more than 2,000 species of butterflies, 4,500 night moths, 175 types of amphibians, 225 kinds of reptiles, 250 mammals, 1,600 species of freshwater and saltwater fish, and more than 890 different birds. Tens of thousands of insect species live in Costa Rica, and new species are continually being discovered.

  • 5. Health

    To enter Costa Rica, vaccinations are not required by European and American tourists. Because of Costa Rica’s geographical location, regardless of the country’s high levels of health, there are still isolated cases of tropical diseases. Every city has one or more hospitals, and there are always clinics or other medical services in small towns. Private medical clinics in San Jose meet European standards.
    According to the World Health Organization (WHO), Costa Rica has one of the best health systems in the world. Infant mortality has decreased, while life expectancy increases. In education, the country currently has one of the highest literacy rates on the continent with about 96% of the population.

  • 6. Climate

    Costa Rica is a tropical country located between two oceans, with a complex geography that gives rise to varied climatic conditions and diverse ecosystems, ranging from tropical dry forest to rainforest and cloud forest. In the Central Valley, temperatures stay generally between 14 and 22 degrees Celsius (57-72 degrees Fahrenheit). While the country has no defined seasons, and regional climates stay relatively stable throughout the year, there are changes between “summer” (dry season) and “winter” (rainy season). Summer season is usually December to April, and “winter” is from May to November.

  • 7. Security

    Costa Rica is a relatively safe country. However, in recent years there has been an increase in the number of assaults and robberies, so it is advisable to use general safety precautions. Leave expensive jewellery at home. Use hotel safes for your valuables. Do not leave valuables visible in a car. Be aware when walking around. Use taxis at night rather than walk.

  • 8. Holidays

    • January 1: New Year’s Day
    • April 11: Juan Santamaría Day (national war hero of 1856)
    • May 1: Labour Day
    • July 25: Guanacaste Day (Annexation of Guanacaste)
    • August 2: Day of the Blessed Virgin of the Angels, patron saint of Costa Rica
    • August 15: Mother’s Day
    • September 15: Independence Day
    • December 25: Christmas
    • Holy Thursday and Holy Friday: Holy Week
  • 9. Language

    Costa Rica is a Spanish-speaking country, although a high percentage of the population speaks English.

  • 10. Money

    The Costa Rican Colon is the official currency of the country and can be exchanged at banks for USD, and vice versa. Exchanging Euros is only possible in a few bank branches; for this reason, it is important to bring USD in cash when you travel to Costa Rica. In ATMs networked with Cirrus and Master, you can get cash with the Eurocard; these are especially found in San Jose and the larger cities. The exchange rate for Colones at the airport is less favourable than in banks. Regarding tips, there is no need to tip in restaurants, because the bills automatically include a 10% service charge, plus sales tax of 13%. It is advisable to leave a tip of about 0.50 Euros to hotel bellmen and the cleaning staff and between 1 and 5 Euros per day per person to tour guides.