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Visitors to the Republic of Costa Rica will find that despite its small size, the country has an incredible number of attractions and activities to offer. Five per cent of the world’s biodiversity can be found within Costa Rica’s borders and great efforts have been made to preserve this rich resource; protected national parks make up almost 25% of the land – more than any other country in the world. From fishing and surfing to white water rafting and exploring volcanic regions, Costa Rica is the perfect playground for nature lovers and adventures seekers alike.
Banking and Currency
Costa Rican Colón (CRC; symbol ₡) = 100 céntimos. Notes are in denominations of ₡50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000. Coins are in denominations of ₡500, 100, 50, 25, 20, 10 and 5. US dollars are also widely accepted.
Banking hours: State banks Mon-Fri 09h00-15h00. Private banks Mon-Fri 08h00-16h00.
Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa credit cards are all accepted; American Express slightly less so. Many banks will only process MasterCard for cash credits. Cash may be the only form of payment in smaller towns and rural areas but many places will take US dollars, giving change in colónes.
ATMs are common throughout the cities and small towns. They will usually accept foreign cards but in some regions only Visa cards are accepted. Occasionally, paying with credit cards may not be possible for technical reasons. Bringing a good supply of US dollars in cash is advised, as many things such as entrance fees to national parks or meals at restaurants, can be paid for with US dollars.
Although travellers can avoid additional exchange rate charges by taking traveller's cheques in US dollars, fewer and fewer businesses in Costa Rica are willing to accept them, and it is better to use the ATM.
Travel, Transport and Getting Around
SANSA operates services between San José and provincial towns and tourist resorts, including Tortuguero, Tamarindo, Quepos and Golfito. A bus is provided from the airline offices in San José to the airport. Costa Rica has domestic airline services which offer flights around the country. Much of Costa Rica is riddled with atrocious roads, so flying is often preferred.
Costa Ricans drive on the right side of the road. Stretches of the Pan-American Highway leading to and from the major cities tend to be okay, but the rest is a mix of dust, gravel, potholes and mountainous roads. You must be over 21 to hire a car, and though an international driver’s license is safest, you are likely to be able to use a full license from your own country. You will need a credit card for the deposit.
There are many different car hire companies in Costa Rica, predominantly in San José and at the main airport, but it is advisable to either book a car through a local travel agency or to be exceptionally careful to note and confirm any damage or scratches to the vehicle before you drive off. Also, ensure that the vehicle comes with a spare tyre and a jack, because Costa Rica’s roads are such that you may well need one.
Taxis are numerous and inexpensive in San José. The taxis are coloured red (except those serving the Juan Santamaría International Airport, which are orange).
Public transport via road in Costa Rica ranges from the large coach companies such as the Tica Bus and Transnica, which are comfortable and air-conditioned, to little shuttle buses in the Nicoya Peninsula.
Costa Rica also has a railway system that offers visitors a fun way to explore parts of the country.
Food, Drink and Cuisine Advice
Costa Rica is a not a major foodie destination, but what it lacks in sophistication it makes up for in choice.
The Caribbean coast tends to be more influenced by the island nations. Jamaican-style jerk chicken is a staple; rice and beans (gallo pinto) are ubiquitous, but more likely to be prepared with coconut milk; and curry spices feature heavily as ingredients, creating dishes with a very distinct flavour from their counterparts on the Pacific coast.
The Costa Rican diet is fairly healthy with low use of dairy or high-fat dishes. Fresh fruits and vegetables make up a high proportion of meals, while pork, chicken and beef are the most popular meats. Seafood is available throughout the country, particularly in coastal regions, with sea bass being the most common fish on menus.
Mains water is normally heavily chlorinated and, whilst relatively safe to drink, may cause mild abdominal upsets. Drinking water outside main cities and towns may be contaminated and sterilisation is advisable. Bottled water is available and is advised for the duration of the stay, especially for those who are liable to sensitive stomachs. Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. Local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables are generally considered safe to eat.
Climate and Weather
In the Central Valley, where the main centres of population are located, the average temperature is 22°C (72°F) and the region enjoys a spring-like climate year round. In the coastal areas, the temperature is much hotter and humid, while the Pacific Northwest can be extremely hot and dry. The rainy season starts in May and finishes in November, although there are distinct regional variations. June and July are the wettest months, particularly on the Caribbean side, but the season can run from May until December. The 'warm' dry season is December to May, though temperature differences between summer and winter are slight. March is the height of the dry season, and the humidity is lower at this time, making this a popular time for visitors.
Clothing and Dress Recommendations
Lightweight cotton and linen clothing is recommended for most of the year with warmer clothes for cooler evenings. Waterproofing is necessary during the rainy season. Loose-fitting clothing is best. Wear neutral browns and greens for birding and wildlife viewing. Always bring mosquito repellent for both day and night.
There are internet cafes throughout the country, and most tourist hotels also provide facilities such as Wi-Fi. Internet speed may be rather slow but this should improve as the government aims to improve infrastructure to allow for faster broadband connections.
Electricity and Plug Standards
Electric sockets in the Republic of Costa Rica are Type B (NEMA 5-15) and/or Type A (NEMA 1-15). If your appliance's plug doesn't match the shape of these sockets, you will need a travel plug adapter in order to plug in. Travel plug adapters simply change the shape of your appliance's plug to match whatever type of socket you need to plug into. If it's crucial to be able to plug in no matter what, bring an adapter for all three types.
Electrical sockets supply electricity at 120 volts AC / 60 Hz frequency. If you're plugging in an appliance that was built for 220-240 volt electrical input, or an appliance that is compatible with multiple voltages, then an adapter is all you need. If your appliance isn’t compatible with 120 volts, a voltage converter will be necessary.