Costa Rica Facts
|Full Name||Republic of Costa Rica (view the map)|
|Capital City||San Jose|
|Area||51,100 sq km, 19,730 sq miles|
|Time Zone||GMT/UTC -6|
|Languages||Spanish (official), English (other)|
|Religion||75% Roman Catholic, 14% Protestant, 11% Other|
|Currency||Costa Rican Colon (¢)|
American-style plug with two parallel flat blades above a circular grounding or Japanese-style plug with two parallel flat blades
|Country Dialing Code||(00)506|
Costa Rica is a tropical country and experiences only two seasons: wet and dry. The dry season is generally between late December and April; the wet season lasts the rest of the year. The highlands are cold: San José and the Central Valley get an ‘eternal spring’ with lows averaging 15°C (60°F) and highs averaging 26°C (79°F). Both the Pacific and Caribbean coasts are pretty much sweltering year-round. Temperatures vary little between seasons; the main influence on temperature is altitude. The humidity at low altitudes can be oppressive.
Travelers to Central America need to the proper vaccinations (Hepatitis A and B, rabies and typhoid) , it’s important that you bring along a good insect repellent (for dengue and malaria and exercise care in what you eat and drink.
Street crime is the principle concern of most travelers. While violent crime is low compared to American cities, pick-pocketing is common. Carry your money and passport in an inside pocket or in a money belt. Stay anonymous by not wearing flashy jewelry and by walking confidently. If you are lost, go inside a store or restaurant to get directions. After dark, travel by taxi. If you’re bar-hopping, don’t go alone.
Visa requirements for Costa Rica change rapidly so check with your consulate before leaving. Currently, citizens of the US, Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, Israel, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, Panama, Paraguay, South Africa, South Korea, Uruguay, the UK, France and most other western European countries do not need a visa for a 90-day stay. Citizens of India, Singapore, Russia and most of Eastern Europe and Latin America can stay 30 days without a visa. All nationalities are required to have an airline ticket to exit Costa Rica or proof of financial resources. If you do need a visa, it will cost around ¢20 from a Costa Rican consulate.
Public phones are found all over Costa Rica; Chip or Colibrí phone cards are available in 1000, 2000 and 3000 colón denominations. Chip cards are inserted into the phone and scanned. Colibrí cards (the most common) require dialing a toll-free number (199) and entering an access code. Instructions are provided in English or Spanish. These are the preferred card of travelers since they can be used from any phone. Purchase cards in supermarkets, pharmacies, and pulperías (grocery stores). Getting a Costa Rican mobile number is very difficult, so do not count on that.
All banks will exchange US dollars, and some will exchange euros; other currencies are more difficult. Most banks have excruciatingly long lines, especially at state-run institutions (Banco Nacional, Banco de Costa Rica, Banco Popular). However, they don’t charge commissions on cash exchanges. Private banks (Banex, Banco Interfin, Scotiabank) tend to be faster. Make sure your dollar bills are in good condition or they may be refused. Non-US travelers should buy US dollars before they arrive in Costa Rica. Carry your passport when exchanging currency and try not to leave the country with excess colones; it’s difficult to buy back more than US$50.00 at the border or airport.
The colón (plural colones), named after Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus), comes in bills of 500, 1000, 5000 and 10,000. Coins come in denominations of 5, 10, 20, 25, 50 and 100 colones. Older coins are silver; newer coins are gold-colored.
International flights arrive at Aeropuerto Internacional Juan Santamaría, 17km (10.5mi) northwest of San José in the town of Alajuela.
Public transport is well-developed in Costa Rica, although transport to towns other than San José is limited. Local buses are the best (albeit rather slow) way of getting around. They will take you just about everywhere, and they’re frequent and cheap. San José is the transport center for the country, but there is no central bus terminal. Taxis are considered a viable form of public transport for long journeys, and can be hired by the day, half-day or hour. Cars and motorcycles can also be rented in San José
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