Name: the Republic of Costa Rica.
Location: Central America. It is bordered to the North by Nicaragua and to the South by Panama.
Capital: San José.
Area: 51,100 square km or 19,730 square miles. (Approximately the size West Virginia in the United States).
Population: 4.6 million inhabitants (estimated in 2011).
Life Expectancy at Birth: 775.26 years for men and 80.65 years for women (estimated in 2011).
Total Fertility Rate: 1.92 children for each woman (estimated in 2011).
Literacy Rate: 94.9% (estimated in 2011).
Ethnic Groups: White (including mestizo) 94%, black/Afro-Caribbean 3%, indigenous 1%, Chinese/Asian 1%.
Religions: Roman Catholic (official State religion) 76.3%. Evangelical 13.7%, Jehovah’s Witness 1.3%, Protestant 0.7%, other 4.8% and none 3.2%.
Language: Spanish (official language). English is widely spoken all over the country.
Climate: Tropical and subtropical. Two seasons: the dry season (from the end of November until April), and the wet season (from May to the beginning of November). Cooler climates can be found at the country’s higher altitudes.
Highest Mountain: Cerro Chirripó, 3,810 m.
Biodiversity: Costa Rica is included among the world’s 20 most diverse countries, being probably the first of these in terms of density of species per square mile; 26.5% of the territory enjoys some type of protected status. The country is divided in to 11 Conservation Areas, which include 166 public protected areas and 140 private areas protected under different management categories.
Administrative Divisions: Provinces: Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limón, Puntarenas, San José.
Legal System: Based on the Spanish legal system, with review of legislative judicial acts being made by the Supreme Court.
Education: Free and obligatory until the end of year nine.
Main industries: Tourism, microprocessor chips, coffee, bananas.
- 30 years’ experience in the tourism industry.
- Primary source of income for the country’s economy since 1994.
- 2,349,000 visitors in 2012
- Average spending per tourist of $1,252 for an average visit of 11.6 nights (2012)
- 49% of tourists come from North America, 30% from Central America and 12% from Europe.
Costa Rican Entry Requirements
Passport: To obtain entry to Costa Rica, visitors should present their passports which must not expire or lose their validity within the 6 months of their entering the country.
Visas: Some countries require visas to enter the country; it is therefore suggested that you check with the Costa Rican Consulate whether this procedure is necessary and, if so, for the requirements for obtaining the visa. For more information, consult the Costa Rican General Directorate for Migration webpage at www.migracion.go.cr
Frequently Asked Questions
When will I find the best weather in Costa Rica?
Anytime of year is the perfect time to visit Costa Rica! But if you decide to visit Costa Rica during the green season, you’ll find a much more dynamic environment teeming with life. Typically the wetter months, May through mid-November, are when the forests explode with vibrant flora and fauna. The mornings are filled with sun while the afternoons bring warm showers. An added benefit includes lower prices!
If you’re itching to escape the winter months at home, November through May in Costa Rica is for you. It’s typically the warmest and driest time of year and also the most popular time to visit. Whether you’re looking to relax all day on a tropical beach or hike through the forests with a little less rain, you won’t find a hint of winter around. But you’ll want to make sure to plan your trip in advance because everyone loves Costa Rica during the winter holidays. Hotels book up quickly and prices tend to be a little bit higher.
Is Costa Rica good for the whole family?
From visiting animal sanctuaries to all-out ziplining adventures, Costa Rica has a little bit of something for everyone. It doesn’t matter how old you are, putting together the perfect travel itinerary is easy.
What documents do I need to visit Costa Rica?
You’ll need 2 documents to visit Costa Rica:
- - valid passport that doesn’t expire for at least 6 months after your entry date to Costa Rica.
- - prepaid airline ticket to leave Costa Rica within 90 days of your arrival.
If you’re a current citizen of the United States or Canada, no visa is required. If you’ll be traveling from other countries, check the Costa Rican embassy page.
Do I need to take malaria pills or get any vaccinations?
You are not required to get any immunizations, shots or vaccinations to enter Costa Rica from North America or Europe. That said, it’s always a good idea to consult your physician before any international travel. You can also visit the CDC website for more up to date health information about Costa Rica.
Where are Costa Rica’s airports and which one should I fly into?
There are two international airports in Costa Rica, the Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO), and the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR). The Juan Santamaría International Airport (SJO) is centrally located in Alajuela near San José. From here, you can get anywhere in the country. But if you’re looking to visit the Northwestern Region of Costa Rica, you might look into the Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) in Liberia, Costa Rica. Located in Guanacaste, it gives you faster access when visiting Guanacaste, the Nicoya Peninsula and the Northern Plains regions.
A list of airlines flying to Costa Rica can be found here.
Can I use my cell phone in Costa Rica?
You will need an unlocked cell phone that is quad-band GSM or 3G handset or at least have an 850 or 1800 mHz band. Call your wireless provider before you travel to Costa Rica to add global roaming capabilities specifically in Costa Rica. Global calling and data rates will apply so make sure to ask about the rates.
Do I need an adaptor for electrical outlets?
Outlets are 110 V, and you don’t need an adaptor.
Are credit cards accepted?
Credit cards are widely accepted in Costa Rica, but you will find that some small businesses won’t take them. If you do plan on using a credit card during your trip, make sure to inform your bank you will be traveling in Costa Rica. For your protection, banks will sometimes block transactions in foreign countries. Also, make sure to ask about currency conversion fees; often, it's about 1-2% of the total transaction cost.
What is Costa Rica's currency, what is the exchange rate and do they accept US dollars?
The official Costa Rican currency is the colón. To find out the most current exchange rate, visit http://www.bloomberg.com/quote/USDCRC:CUR.
How do I exchange currency?
Money can be exchanged in public and private banks, ATMs, some hotels and shops. Your passport may be required to make the exchange. Places that typically have higher exchange rates are airports and private banks.
What are some things to do in Costa Rica?
Costa Rica may be a small country, but the amount of things to do here are endless. Here are just a few activities to help you discover the perfect way to spend your Costa Rican vacation.
How do I get around Costa Rica?
Rent a car and have the freedom to roam wherever you please. A 4x4 is recommended, just in case you get the urge to explore a few more rugged roads during your trip. All current drivers licenses are accepted.
A few driving tips to keep in mind:
- - We suggest renting a GPS with your rental car. Although the Ticos are very friendly and more than willing to help you with directions, nobody really likes to stop and ask for them anyways.
- - If you’re looking for an easier way to navigate Costa Rica, we suggest downloading the the app Waze to your smartphone. With an international data plan, it’ll give you directions and help you navigate around traffic.
- - Due to various road conditions it might take a bit longer to drive some places. Plan accordingly.
- - This advice applies to any country you’re not familiar with: Avoid driving at night. Always lock your car and don't leave valuables in it. And in large cities try to park in a secured parking lot with an attendant. In short, just use good common sense.
- - In case of an emergency, call the National Insurance Institute (INS) at 800/800-8000 or the Transit Police at 2222-9330 or 2222-9245. You can also call 911 to be redirected to any agency you need.
A directory of Costa Rica car rental services can be found here.
Shuttles & Private Transportation
If you don’t want to bother driving yourself, try reserving a shuttle or private transportation. That leaves more time for you to appreciate the landscape and see the abundant wildlife of Costa Rica while your driver worries about the road.Domestic Airlines
Interested in a faster way to travel the country? Domestic flights are available with SANSA and Nature Air to and from downtown San José, Alajuela-SJO, Arenal, Manuel Antonio, Tamarindo, Liberia, Samara, Tortuguero, Drake Bay, Puerto Jiménez, Golfito, Palmar Norte, Barra del Colorado and Tambor.
The Northern and Southern Regions of the Nicoya Peninsula can be easily accessed by a ferry from Puntarenas. Head to the tip of Puntarenas, drive your car on the ferry and park. Then enjoy the 65 minute boat ride across the Gulf of Nicoya. It’s a scenic and relaxing trip with great views of the peninsula. Info can be found here.
Public buses are the least expensive means of transportation in Costa Rica. They connect to nearly every city, town and village. They may take a little longer, but that just gives you more time to enjoy the beautiful scenery.
Bus Itineraries can be found here.
What is Costa Rican food like?
Two words: simple and delicious. Chicken, fish, rice and seafood are staples at restaurants or sodas all over the country. You’ll also discover some of the best tasting fruit around. Pineapple, mango, papaya, watermelon, guanábana, melon, cantaloupe and avocados are in abundance. Do yourself a favor: try everything, savor it all, and go back for seconds.
Beyond Costa Rican food, you’ll also find a vast array of foreign cuisines. There’s no shortage of Peruvian, Italian, Argentinian or even Caribbean, just to name a few.
Other popular dishes of traditional Costa Rican food (comida típica) include:
- - Arroz con Pollo (rice with chicken)
- - Gallo Pinto (mix of rice and black beans for breakfast)
- - Casado (rice and beans, salad, choice of meat and fried plantains)
- - Ceviche (citrus-marinated seafood salad).
- - Olla de Carne (beef soup with a mix of potato, yucca, squash and corn).
- - Sopa negra (black bean soup).
Is water safe to drink?
The tap water in Costa Rica is drinkable.
How much do I tip service workers?
A service charge of 10% is almost always included in your bill. But if you feel you received exceptional service, feel free to leave a little more.
What is the sales tax in Costa Rica?
Sales tax is 13%.
What should I do in case of an emergency?
In Costa Rica, 911 translates to… 911. Dial it in an emergency. Plus, most major cities have either a hospital or health clinic where they offer basic medical attention. The Red Cross also offers ambulance service if you dial 128.
Do I have to pay a departure tax?
Yes. When you leave Costa Rica through SJO or LIR everyone must pay a departure tax at the airport, before checking in with your airline.
Beginning at 3:00 AM it can be paid near your airline check-in at a designated counter. It’s collected in U.S. dollars, Costa Rican colones, or Visa or Mastercard debit/credit cards. Paying at either of the airports is typically quick and easy, but if you prefer, some hotels allow you to pay the departure tax before heading to the airport.
All airline tickets purchased on or after December 3 will have departure taxes already included in the airfare. Confirm with your airlines, just to make sure.