Costa Rica is a country in Central America. In the north it borders Nicaragua and in the south Panamá. To the west, there is the Pacific Ocean and to the east, the Caribbean Sea. Costa Rica is Spanish for rich coast. As such, one can expect to find this place to be the ideal tropical paradise. A native song is that the Virgin Mary came down to Costa Rica and never went back to Heaven.Costa Rica has bewilderingly diverse landscapes, flora, and... Read more...
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Cities and Destinations in Costa Rica
Costa Rica is a country in Central America. In the north it borders Nicaragua and in the south Panamá. To the west, there is the Pacific Ocean and to the east, the Caribbean Sea.
Costa Rica is Spanish for rich coast. As such, one can expect to find this place to be the ideal tropical paradise. A native song is that the Virgin Mary came down to Costa Rica and never went back to Heaven.
Costa Rica has bewilderingly diverse landscapes, flora, and fauna—more so than any other place on Earth. From rain forests, to dry tropical and temperate forests, to volcanoes, to Carribean and Pacific beaches, to high mountains, and marshy lowlands.
Plains of the North, Guanacaste, Nicoya Peninsula, Central Valley, Central Pacific, Caribbean Costa Rica, South Costa Rica and Cocos Island National Park.
Juan Santamaría Airport (SJO) is located close to the cities Alajuela, Heredia and the capital San José.
SJO is currently under remodeling. An otherwise pleasant airport features the normal assortment of duty-free shops, interesting souvenir and bookshops, but an inadequate selection of overpriced restaurants (Church's Chicken, Burger King and a fast-food pizza joint). SJO is serviced daily by Air Caraibes, American Airlines, Continental Airlines, Delta Airlines, Frontier Airlines, Iberia, Thomas Cook, LTU, Martinair, Mexicana Airlines, Spirit Airlines, United Airlines, US Airways, Air Canada as well as Taca and Copa Airlines. Connecting the airport with cities such as: Los Angeles, New York, Houston, Dallas, Miami, Philadelphia, Charlotte, Atlanta, Phoenix, Orlando, Chicago, Newark, Toronto, Montreal, Madrid, Frankfurt, Bogota, Caracas, Lima, Guayaquil, Quito, and all Central America. Frontier Airlines begun non-stop service from Denver on November 30th, 2007 and flies to SJO 5 days a week.
There is a US $26 exit fee at the Juan Santamaría Airport. This must be paid in cash, or by Visa (in which case it will be processed as a cash advance). The fee can also be paid in advance at some hotels or banks.
Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport (LIR) is near Liberia in the Guanacaste province. This airport is closest to the Pacific Northwest coast. Liberia receives flights from Delta, American, United, Continental, Air Canada, Sky Service (charter), and First Choice (charter). Connecting the airport with cities like: Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Miami, Houston, Dallas, Newark, Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary, London, etc.
The Interamericana (Panamerican Highway) runs through Costa Rica and is the main entry point by car. The border post in the north (to Nicaragua) is called Penas Blancas Peñas Blancas and in the south (to Panamá) Paso Canoas. Virtually all travel out of the capital (except to the Caribbean side) will involve travelling this road. There are many speed traps along this major artery, as well as some random police checks for seat belts and, especially near the borders, for valid travel documents. The highway speed is 80km/h, but since the Interamericana (a.k.a. Highway #1) passes through innumerable small towns the speed frequently drops to 50 or even 30 km/h as you suddenly find yourself in a school zone. Most of the highway is not divided. A common indicator that a police checkpoint is ahead is that oncoming cars flick their lights at you. Drivers also appear to flick their lights sometimes when someone has overtaken them. A speeding ticket is at the most 20, 000 Colones (US $40), and although the police are generally congenial, foreign drivers are occasionally illegally offered an on the spot fine that is half that or less.
Many Costa Rican roads are in terrible shape, and short distances can take a very long time. To get a feeling for distances and driving times this map with the major roads of Costa Rica can be helpful. Even the only road in and out of popular tourist destinations are riddled with major potholes. To avoid potholes, drivers will often snake through the left and right lanes, usually returning to the right when oncoming traffic approaches. While this may seem erratic to North American drivers, one becomes quickly accustomed to it. Driving at night is highly inadvisable due to the unpredictability of road conditions and lack of safety features such as guard rails on the many hairpin turns in the hills. There is not confusion about geting to know the Costa Rican system, sleep at night and travel at day time, keep your car speed moderated and drive defensive, always, the roads in Costa rica are the way they should be, that's the way many tourist like them, so they can have a wonderful experience, in the tropics, for more information you can check CostaRica Solidamerica of Costa Rica and get a nice Costa Rican ride tour thru our information available.
Many roads are unpaved, and even the paved roads have lots of unpaved sections and washed out or unfinished bridges. Bridges are often only wide enough for one vehicle; one direction usually has priority. Do not expect to get anywhere quickly, supposed 3 hour journeys can turn into 5 or more hours easily: there are always slow cars/buses/trucks on the road. This causes a lot of crazy driving, which you begin to emulate if you are in-country for more than a day. The government does not seem to be fixing the infrastructure well (or at all!) 50km/hr is good over unpaved roads; you hit a resonance frequency where the damping factor of the suspension matches the undulations of the road and you have a smooth ride. Some hotels, in the mountains, require a four wheel drive to reach the destination. Call ahead. This is more for the ground clearance then the quality of the road. Four wheel drive vehicles are widely at the car rentals near the air port, but call ahead.
Navigation can prove challenging. Road signs are relatively few, and those that do exist can be inaccurate. It is recommended that you have a good road map with the small towns listed, since road signs will often only indicate the next town, not the direction of the next major city. Towns generally do not have town-limit signs; you are best to look at the names on the roadside food stores and restaurants to determine the place you are passing. Stop and ask, practice your Spanish. The center of town is usually a public park with a Catholic Church across from it.
There are no formal street addresses in Costa Rica, but two informal systems exist. The first (often used in tourist information) indicates the road on which the establishment is located (e.g. 6th Avenue ) together with the crossroad interval (e.g. between 21st and 23rd Streets ). In practice, street signs are virtually non-existent, and locals do not even know the name of the street they are on. The second system, which is much more reliable and understood by locals, is known as the Tico address, usually involving an oriented distance (e.g. 100 meters south, 50 meters east ) from a landmark (e.g. the cathedral ).
It is worth noting the particular road naming system in San Jose. Avenues run east-west and streets run north-south. The numbering is less straighforward. Starting at Central Avenue going South are 2nd, 4th, 6th Avenue, etc. while going North are 1st, 3rd, 5th, etc. Streets use even numbers going west, and odd numbers going east. This means that if you are at 7th Avenue and 4th Street, and looking for 6th Avenue and 5th Street, you are on the wrong side of town.
Gas stations are full service and the guys there are very cool about taking dollars or Colón(es). The interesting thing is that Costa Rica is small so you do not burn a lot of gas getting places even though it seems like forever. Costa Rica is also land of the traffic circles so people from Europe should have no problem but North Americans should make sure they know how they work. The gas stations really are full service, without asking I have had my oil checked, and water in my raditor filled, and tire pressure topped off. The state owns a gasoline company and the private companies raise their prices to the level of the state set price. It is recommendable to always use super gas and not regular, the regular is soiled. If not you will have to change the gas filter and clean the injectors after 5000 miles.
There are bus services from the neighboring countries of Panama Panamá, Nicaragua, Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Check out www.thebusschedule.com for more information.
There is an extensive network of bus routes within the country with reasonable fares. Departures are very punctual, though routes often take longer than expected. Stop by the Tourist Office downtown (underneath the Gold Museum in the Plaza--ask anyone and they'll be able to help you out) and get a detailed schedule. The bus system is a safe and even fun way to see a lot of the country cheaply and not have to worry about car rentals. It is highly recommended! If using the bus routes within the country, some ability to speak and understand Spanish may be necessary, although most are friendly enough to be able to help you out.
There are some boat transfers available into Costa Rica from Bocas del Toro in Panama Panamá.
There is twice daily boat service from Los Chiles (in NE Costa Rica), former home of the Contras, to San Carlos, Nicaragua. The cost is about $5, plus a $1 fee. The boats usually only run in the mornings.
Keep in mind the pet peeve most tourists have with tico kindness: often times when a tico has no idea where a certain destination you may have had in mind is, he or she will simply direct you to a random location. Often simply incomprehensible, these directions are a reflection on the cultural approach to kindness many Costa Ricans adopt. Ask for directions from several different people if you aren't convinced by the first answer you get.
Most major tourist destinations in Costa Rica are serviced by at least two daily buses from and to San Jose. The advantages of public transportation in Costa Rica are that tickets are cheap (rarely more than $7 US per person) and they cover most towns around the country. For bus schedule information in Costa Rica see www.thebusschedule.com.
For 350-700 USD a week you can rent a econocar/mid size 4WD. Insurance is the majority of this cost and it is not optional. 4 wheel drive is good for extensive traveling outside the Central Valley, especially in the wet season. In the dry season going from La Fortuna to Monteverde via a direct route was over a boulder strewn 15-30 MPH road. 4WD was also useful on the Nicoya coast.(above based on 2001 roads). B Driving in Costa Rica is, by American standards, dangerous. /B Costa Rica has one of the highest deaths by car accidents in the world.
Due to the condition of most roads outside San Jose, car insurance, even with a zero-deductible option, generally does not cover tires and rims. Car rental companies requires a guaranty deposit from 750 USD during the rental period and a credit card is necessary for this process. Using an insurance program provided by some types of gold or platinum credit cards is a good advantage since these credit cards would cover small scratches, small dents as well as the entire rented vehicle in case of collision or theft. Reliable companies are Dollar ( www.dollarcr.com) and Wild Rider ( www.wild-rider.com) with competitive rates, great cars and good service.
You have to exercise caution when renting a car in Costa Rica, where it is not uncommon for rental companies to claim for damamge they insist you inflicted on the vehicle. It is by far the best policy to rent a car through a Costa Rican travel agent. If you are travelling on a package, your agent will sort this out. Otherwise, go into an ICT-accredited travel agent in San Jose and ask them to arrange rental for you. This should be no more expensive than renting on your own and will help guard against false claims of damage and other accusations; rental companies will be less willing to make trouble with an agent who regularly sends them clients than with individual customers who they may not see again.
Make sure to check the car carefully before you sign off the damage sheet. Check the oil, brake fluid, fuel gauge (to make sure it's full) and that there is a spare tire with a good air pressure and a jack. Look up the Spanish for scratches (rayas) and other relevant terminology first, so you can at least scrutinize the rental company's assessment. Keep a copy of this document on you.
Take the maximum insurance (around $15-20 per day); because of the country's high accident rate, you need to be covered for damage to the vehicle, yourself, any third party and public property.
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For 300-900 USD a week you can rent a dual sport bike or a chopper. A motorcycle rental company requires a guaranty deposit from 600 USD during the rental period. Reliable companies are Wild Rider (www.wild-rider.com) and Maria Alexander (www.mariaalexandra.com) with competitive rates, great bikes and good service.
Another easy way to get around Costa Rica is to use the services of mini-vans. At most of the hotels, the receptionist is able to assist travelers who want to travel across the country by arranging for the services of a driver. Rates are reasonable (US$29 per person, for example, to get from San Jose to Tamarindo in April 2007) The drivers know the roads well; the vans are clean and comfortable; and they take you from door to door.
Taxis are available in most large cities. They are usually inexpensive, charging only a few dollars to get most anywhere within the city. The meter is called la maria ; ask the driver to turn it on immediately upon getting in the car, or he may leave it off and make up his own, more expensive, price when you get to your destination. Official taxis are red with a yellow triangle on the side. If you are alone, especially if you are female, ride in the back seat as riding in the front with the driver can be seen as suggestive.
Although illegal, hitchihiking is far more common in rural areas than in urban areas. If you choose to hitchhike, Costa Ricans are generally very friendly and helpful, particularly in more rural areas where traffic on the dirt roads can be light. As always, be gracious and offer a bit of money, which will probably be declined. More info about Hitchhiking in Costa Rica http://en.hitchwiki.org/?title=Costa_Rica
There is an internal airline that connects the major tourist towns. You are limited to 25-30 pounds of carry on person, depending on the airline, and you are put on a scale before you board the twin engine turbo prop plane.
When to go
With 1.9 million travelers visiting Costa Rica annually, more than any Latin American country, travel is quite popular and common. Still, travelers to Costa Rica should exercise caution. The emergency number in Costa Rica is 911.
Traffic in Costa Rica is dangerous, so be careful. Pedestrians in general do not have the right of way. Roads in rural areas may also tend to have many potholes. Driving at night is not recommended.
Robbery at knife point is not altogether uncommon. There is no army and the police have been known to be corrupt.
Like any other tourist destination, watch out for Pickpockets pickpockets.
Purse snatchings, armed robberies and car-jackings have been on the rise lately. Stay alert and protect your valuables at all times, especially in the San Jose (Costa Rica) San Jose area.
Smash and grabs of car windows are very common all over the country so do not leave valuables in your vehicle.
Another common robbery scheme includes slashing your tires, then when you stop to fix the flat, one or two friendly people stop to help and instead grab what valuables they can.
If you are motioned to pull over by anyone, do not do so until you are at a well-lit and safe place.
Make use of hostel or hotel lock boxes if they are really secure – this is great when you want to swim or kick back and really not worry.
Do have a few beers and enjoy yourself, but never drink so much that you won't be alert and aware of what's going on.
On a long trip, it's advised that you make back-up CDs (or DVDs) of your digital photos and send a copy back home. In the event that you are robbed, you will thank yourself!
When encountering a new currency, learn the exchange rate from a reliable source (online ahead of time or a local bank, preferably) and create a little cheat sheet converting it to US dollars or the other Central American currency you are comfortable with. Travel with small denominations of US dollars (crisp 1s, 5s, 10s) as back-up... usually you'll be able to use them if you run out of local currency.
Go to a bank to change money when possible and practical. If you find yourself needing to use the services of a person who is a money changer (Sunday morning at the border, for instance) make sure to have your own calculator. Do not trust money changers and their doctored calculators, change the least amount of money possible and take a hard look at the bills – there's lots of false ones out there. Always insist that your change be in small bills – you'll lose more at one time if a large bill is false, plus large bills are hard to change (even the equivalent of $20 USD in Costa Rica or $5 USD in Nicaragua can be difficult in some small towns, believe it or not!)
Traveling alone is fine and generally safe in Costa Rica, but carefully consider what kind of risks (if any) you are willing to take. Always hike with other people and try to explore a new city with other people. On solo forays, if you feel uncomfortable seek out a group of other people (both women and men). A well lighted place with people you can trust is always a plus. A busy restaurant or hostel is a great source of local info as well as a great place to relax and recharge.
Marijuana is illegal in Costa Rica and hundreds of people are arrested each year because of it. You do not want to be in jail there. The US DEA is also present in Costa Rica and has been known to pretend to be a tourist. There is a Costa Rican equivalent of the DEA as well. It is not advised to do illegal drugs in Costa Rica. It is also not advised to bribe a police officer. Do so at your own risk.
Prostitution is legal in Costa Rica and can be a destination for those looking for more than sun and surf on their vacation. Unfortunately, some of the sex tourists coming to Costa Rica sexually abuse children who are held hostage in the sex tourism industry. The majority of sex tourists in Costa Rica are from the United States, and are prosecutable by the Protect Act of 2003. This act gives the US government the power to prosecute US citizens who travel abroad to engage in sex tourism with children under the age of 18. Several other countries including France, Canada, the UK, Netherlands and Australia have similar laws. Arrests and prosecutions are being made under these laws.
Bus travel tips
Below is a list of suggestions for traveling by bus in Costa Rica and neighboring countries. These are overcautious tips, but the bottom line is that they can help prevent being ripped off. Nearly all thefts on the bus are preventable thefts!!!!
Travel with someone else when possible. A trusted friend is best, of course-not just someone you met last night at the hostel, but he or she will do in a pinch. (Trust your gut feeling with new friends – most are great, but some may be con artists!) Traveling with a friend makes the journey more entertaining and more fun... you can talk and share travel stories and each of you can take turns sleeping on long bus rides. Also, there is the fact that two heads are better than one and it's always good to be able to brainstorm if you aren't sure what the answer to your travel question or concern is.
Make sure to wear a money belt with your passport, cash, credit/debit cards and ticket (bus or plane). Even if all my other belongings are stolen, you would still be able to get to your next destination. The waist belts are best; a neck pouch can be lifted while you are asleep. A thief would really have to disturb you and your personal space to get a waist belt.
On any bus ride (1st, 2nd, 3rd class, whatever!) try to sit above the luggage compartment so that you can watch that your bag doesn't walk away when others get off the bus.
Try not to fall asleep or take turns with a travel partner (when you are lucky enough to have one.)
Make conversation with locals on the bus so that they can see that you are competent in Spanish and comfortable in the Spanish speaking environment. (You'll enjoy yourself plus this may make them feel friendly towards you and more willing to alert you if someone is snooping in your stuff. Or it might warn them that if they steal from you, you will talk to the bus driver and police and make a full report.) Even some Spanish is better than none – use what you have! It's great practice and the more you improve the safer you'll be!
Don't bring anything that you are not willing to lose. Keep your day pack attached to you at all times when traveling – the straps get wrapped around your leg and the bag squeezed between your knees or feet. You don't want to lose your travel notes, camera, etc.
Beaches, weather and wildlife
The coasts of Costa Rica are known for strong currents and rip-tides in some areas but most of them are great to be with the family. Atlantic coast is just five hours away from the Pacific one and both offer different views and landscapes. There are no signs indicating an unsafe beach due to riptides, so take precautions and listen to the locals on where it is safe to swim. The public beaches do not have life guards. A traveler should learn how to swim out of a rip tide and not swim alone. There are some active volcanoes in Costa Rica and they are dangerous, so follow the warning signs posted. The slopes of the Arenal volcano invite visitors to climb closer to the summit, but there have been fatalities in the past with unseen gas chambers. Also be wary of the climate of Costa Rica. It is very hot in the daytime, but in the morning and evening it becomes very cool, so you should bring a light weight jacket.
Crocodiles are quite common in certain parts of Costa Rica and, although not as dangerous as the Nile or Saltwater species, are still considered occasional man-eaters and can grow to lengths of up to 20 feet. Great care should be taken when swimming or snorkeling, especially near areas where fishing is common or near river mouths. When you go to the Guanacaste beaches on the Pacific you can see some crocodiles over the Terraba river.
While large, the beautiful Jaguar is extremely rare and even most locals have never seen the very large predatory cat, leaving there very little risk of attack-they appear to be very shy and elusive.
Bull sharks share much of the same territory as the crocodiles and probably account for more shark related attacks in the world than any other species.
Dogs are trained to be protective of property and people (perro bravo) and there are also many strays. Dog bites are not uncommon. Do not approach an unknown dog.
Gay and lesbian
Gay Costa Rica: Costa Rica is widely known as the most tolerant of Latin American countries for gay and lesbian travelers but caution should still be exercised. More and more Costaricans are getting out of the closet. There is a thriving gay scene in San Jose (Costa Rica) San Jose with many gay and lesbian options for nightlife (La Avispa, Club Oh!, Bochinche among others). The Manuel Antonio and Quepos area is also a favorite spot with several gay hotels, a gay bar and a nude mostly gay beach, Playita.
According to the Costa Rica Tourism Board, about 200 medical procedures are performed every month at the nation's hospitals for medical tourists. Among the procedures done are cosmetic surgery, knee and hip replacement, cataract removal and other eye treatments, weight loss surgery and dental care. Health care in Costa Rica is attractive for international patients because of the low prices, high care standards, and access to tourist attractions. As examples of the prices, Choice Medical Services, a medical tourism firm, says that in Costa Rica a hip replacement costs US$11, 970 and a tummy tuck costs US$4410.
Costa Rica has one of the highest levels of social care in the world. Its doctors are worldwide known as one of the best. Many people from U.S, Canada and Europe go there to be treated, not only because the quality of the service but for the cost. First class Hospitals can be found in the capital. There is a public/private hospital system. There is excellent care in each. The public system has much longer waits, while the private system has shorter waits. If you are unfortunated to have a very sick child requiring hospitalization, the child will be transfered to the only children's hospital in CR, located in the capital. This children's hospital is public. There have been outbreaks of dengue fever in some areas of the country and an outbreak of malaria was reported in November 2006 from the province of Limon but just a few cases. Protection against mosquito bites is very important, wearing lightweight long pants, long sleeved shirts and using insect repellents with high concentrations of DEET is recommended by the CDC. If you are going to be in very rural areas known to be malaria-infested areas, you might want to consider an anti-malarial med. However, most travelers to Costa Rica do just fine with updated childhood immunizations and taking preventative measures against mosquito bites (rather than take anti-malarial meds).
Quick Facts about Costa Rica
4,075,261 (July 2006 est.)
Spanish (official), English spoken around Puerto Limon
Country Dialing Code
Costa Rican colon (CRC)