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  Costa Rica Info  

Costa Rica Highlights

Costa Rica boasts one of the oldest and more consolidated democracies in Latin America.
Primary education for both sexes was declared mandatory in 1869, and is free and subsidized by the State.
In 1949 the Armed Forces were abolished and in 1983 Perpetual Neutrality was proclaimed.
Costa Rica has a relatively small population of roughly three and a half million inhabitants.
Costa Rica's natural land area is 51,200 square kilometers, and it has a wider variety of species of births than in all of Europe or North America.
Costa Rica hosts the headquarters of several international human rights and conservations organizations.
Costa Rica has 1500 kilometers of tropical beaches and a wild diversity of flora and fauna found in its wide array of microclimates, many of which are found in one or more of its National Parks.


There is a tremendous variety of microclimates or climatic zones throughout the country, and the province of Guanacaste is a tropical dry forest. Overall, the climate of Costa Rica can be best described as mild all year round. Since the country is located in the tropical zone, there is less seasonal change in the weather from one season to another. There is a "dry" season which is spring and summer in Costa Rica (the winter months in the U.S.), During this season, temperatures hover pleasantly in the high 60s to low 70s which goes from December to May although in Guanacaste the temperatures tend to be higher.

The "wet" season is more aptly called the "green" season in Guanacaste since there is significantly less rainfall in this region of the country. This season lasts from June to November. The weather can be characterized by sunny mornings and showers that generally commence in the afternoon. On areas near the coasts, temperatures may be as much as ten degrees higher. Temperature is more a matter of elevation than location with a mean of around 72 degrees in the Central Valley, 82 degrees on the Atlantic coast and 89 degrees on the Pacific coast.


The democratic government is the source of tremendous pride to Costa Ricans also known as "Ticos". This is a country that boasts having more teachers than policemen and not having a standing army since 1948. Democracy also means that even the smallest town has a right to have electricity, potable water and public or private phones.

Elections are at the core of democracy in Costa Rica and are held every four years on the first Sunday in February. The days prior to the election turns into a nation-wide party. Anyone over the age of 18 can vote in the country's schools which are equipped as polling places during elections. The democratic nature of the elections is reinforced by separate elections for presidential, legislative and municipal office.


Costa Rica is a democratic republic as stated in the 1949 Constitution which guarantees all citizens and foreigners equality before the law, the right to own property, the right of petition and assembly, freedom of speech, and the right to habeas corpus, among others. The government is divided into independent executive, legislative and judicial powers. This "separation of powers" is stipulated in Article 9 of the Constitution.


Costa Rica is six hours behind Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) which coincides with Central Time in North America. Costa Rica does not observe daylight saving time.


As in the rest of Latin America. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion in Costa Rica. Costa Rica is, however, very tolerant of other religions, and religious freedom is protected by the constitution.


The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. Due to the importance of English to the tourist industry, and the fact that public schools have made the learning of a second language mandatory, many Costa Ricans can understand and speak a bit of English.


Unlike the United States that has its legal system based on English common law, Costa Rica is a civil law country. The legal system is derived from the French Napoleonic Code. The government of Costa Rica is comprised of 4 branches:  The Judicial, Executive (President and Cabinet Ministers), Legislative (elected members) and Electoral Tribunal (this entity takes over police and government functions dealing with elections before each election).  Members of this Tribunal are usually unpaid volunteers who are judges.  This is to ensure free and democratic elections.


The national currency of Costa Rica is the colon, named for Christopher Columbus. Dollars are readily exchanged at banks and may be used in all stores and restaurants, although change will usually be given in local currency. All major credit cards are accepted. Travelers checks are accepted, but you will be required to show several forms of ID to cash a travelers checks, and some businesses refuse to take them since the local banks impose a lot of requirements on travelers checks.


Costa Rica uses the same standard as the United States: 110 volts AC (60 cycles). Three-pronged outlets may be scarce, however, so it's helpful to have a plug adapter.


Most banks are open Monday through Friday from 9am to 3:30pm, although some are beginning to extend their hours. Stores are generally open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm (some smaller stores close for a 1 hour lunch break).


There is a post office in Playas del Coco and there are several internet cafes in Playas del Coco, some of which provide international phone services. International phone cards are sold at the airport. The country code for Costa Rica is 506, and no area code is required when placing calls inside the country.


International Air Transportation: Juan Santamaría International Airport is located on the outskirts of the capital city, San José. The airport is roughly 4.5 hours from Playa Ocotal by car. This airport is serviced by American Airlines, Delta, United, U.S. Air, Continental, Iberia, Taca and KLM. Recently Spirit Airlines also commenced flights to San José from Ft. Lauderdale, Florida.

Daniel Ouduber International Airport is only 30 minutes from Ocotal and is serviced by Delta and American Airlines via Atlanta and Miami or through Houston and Newark on Continental or Raleigh on U.S. Air.

Domestic Air Transportation: All flights leave from the International airport in San José or the Tobias Bolaños Airport. There is a network of internal airports which not only serve important cities but also serve small tourist destinations as well. Among the key locations are: Liberia Palmar Sur, Tamarindo, Barra del Colorado, Limón, Quepos, Golfito, Coto 47, etc. The Tobias Bolaños Airport, which is located to the west of San José, provides private airlines charter flights to anywhere in the country with a landing strip.

Domestic Bus Service: Costa Rica offers an adequate bus service primarily through private companies which link San José with the principal provincial towns and cities, ports and tourist areas. The vehicles are generally of good quality and offer frequent itineraries, so that one can travel by bus throughout the country leaving from different bus terminals. In the main cities and villages, there are taxis that service passengers that need transportation to more remote locations. Four-wheel drive vehicles are typical for rural areas. There is bus transportation on PULMITAN from Playas del Coco or Liberia to San José.

International Bus Service: Leaving from San José there is bus service to Central America and Panamá. The Companies TICA BUS, SIRCA and TRACOPA have scheduled trips to Panamá, Nicaragua and other countries.

Travel by Car: The Costa Rica highway network is not as developed as in many of the other Central American countries. The highway system has not been a priority. While most of the main roads are paved, they are often full of potholes, some the size of lunar craters, particularly during the rainy season. The major roads are a single lane in each direction which makes passing a challenge, and the going can be very slow at certain times of day when the highways are full or heavily-laden trucks. Throughout the country there are many gas stations, some of which offer round-the-clock service. Costa Rica does not have any self-service gas stations.

Driver requirements: As a tourist, 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 in effect. Warning triangles should be carried at all times by all drivers, and the use of seat belts is also mandatory for drivers and front-seat passengers. The use of helmets for motorcycle drives is required.


Costa Rica is known for its modern and renowned medical health system under the administration of the Caja de Seguro Social (the Caja). Any foreigner who is temporarily in the country has the right to receive medical attention at hospitals and clinics in case of any emergency, a sudden illness or a chronic illness. The Caja offers a medical insurance assistance program for foreigners needing emergency medical assistance. The coverage can be bought at travel agencies, language schools or through tour companies.

Most hotels and villas have contact with a doctor or can recommend a public or private hospital and clinic that has 24-hour service, seven days a week.


Costa Rica has an extensive network of roadways, mostly paved, that provide access to almost any part of the country. The main route is the Inter-American Highway that links the two borders from Peñas Blancas de Paso Canoas. The roads in Costa Rica are not well maintained, and many have significant pot holes, particularly during the rainy season. Thus a four-wheel drive vehicle is highly recommended.



The U.S. Embassy is located in the Pavas area of San José at the intersection of Avda. Central and Calle 120.

U.S. Embassy Telephone - (506) 2519-2000

Embassy Business Hours: Monday - Friday 8:00 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.

Emergency after Hour Assistance for U.S. Citizens - (506) 2519-2280, (506) 2519-2279 and (506) 2220-3127.


The Canadian Embassy is located west of downtown San José, in Sabana Sur, behind the Controloría in the Oficentro Executive Complex, Building 5.

Telephone: (506) 2242-4400

Hours of Operations:
Monday - Thursday 7:30 a.m. - 4:00 p.m. Friday 7:30 a.m. - 1:00 p.m.

After hours emergency contact information (for Canadian citizens only)

Call collect: (613) 996-8885 / (613) 944-1310 (TTY) - The Emergency Operations Centre of the Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An experienced officer is always available to respond to emergency calls from anywhere in the world.



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. You are required to carry your passport with you at all times. If you are stopped by officials, a photocopy with your photo, passport number and entry stamp will usually suffice.

To stay beyond this time frame legally, travelers 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 that is currently $26.00. 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.


There are currently no vaccinations required to enter Costa Rica as epidemic diseases have been all but eradicated throughout the country. You are unlikely to encounter any serious diseases in Costa Rica. Sanitary standards are high and the health system is excellent. During the past two wet seasons there have been several outbreaks of the mosquito-borne disease, dengue fever, but so far there have been no reported cases of the more serious hemorrhaging dengue.



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