Costa Rica Overview Map Country Overview Costa Rica lies between Nicaragua and Panama. Its width ranges from 119km to 282km (74 to 176 miles). There are lowlands on both coastlines, swampy on the Caribbean coast, with grassland savannah on the Pacific side merging into swamps towards the south. Rivers cut through mountain ranges, flowing down to both the Caribbean and the Pacific. The capital, San José, was founded in 1737 and is a pleasant mixture of traditional and modern Spanish architecture. Places of interest include the Teatro Nacional and the Parque Central. On the Caribbean coast there are numerous beaches, ports and towns worth visiting. Braulio Carrillo National Park in the central region of the country has five kinds of forest. Orchids and ferns, jaguars, ocelots and the Baird tapir may all be seen here. Common dishes include casado (rice, beans, stewed beef, fried plantain, salad and cabbage) and sopa negra (black beans with a poached egg). Coffee is good value and has an excellent flavour. San José has many nightclubs and venues with folk music and dance. There are several theatres and cinemas. General Information Area: 51,100 sq km (19,730 sq miles). Population: 3,925,331 (2000). Population Density: 79.2 per sq km. Capital: San José. Population: 328,293 (official estimate 2002). GEOGRAPHY: Costa Rica, lying between Nicaragua and Panama, is a complete coast-tocoast segment of the Central American isthmus. Its width ranges from 119km to 282km (74 to 176 miles). A low thin line of hills, that rises between Lake Nicaragua and the Pacific Ocean in Nicaragua, broadens and rises as it enters northern Costa Rica, eventually forming the high, rugged, mountains of volcanic origin in the centre and south. The highest peak is Chirripó Grande, which reaches 3820m (12,530ft). More than half the population live on the Meseta Central, a plateau with an equitable climate. It is rimmed to the southwest by the Cordillera range, and provides the setting for the country’s capital, San José. There are lowlands on both coastlines, mainly swampy on the Caribbean coast, with grassland savannah on the Pacific side merging into mangrove towards the south. Rivers cut through the mountains, flowing down to both the Caribbean and the Pacific. Government: Republic. Gained independence from Spain in 1821. Head of State and Government: President Abel Pacheco de la Espriella since 2002. Language: Spanish is the official language. English is widely spoken. Some French, German and Italian are also spoken. Religion: Almost entirely Christian, with Roman Catholic majority. Time: GMT - 6. Electricity: 120 volts AC, 60Hz. Two-pin plugs are standard. Communications: Telephone: IDD is available. Country code: 506. Outgoing international code: 00. Telephone booths are available all over the country. Mobile telephone: GSM 1800/3G network is operated by Instituto Costarricense de Electricidad (ICE). Handsets can be hired, although this can be difficult and timeconsuming. Fax: Facilities are available in San José at the Radiográfica Costarricense SA (opening hours: 0700-2200). Internet: There are Internet cafes and some hotels also provide facilities. Telegram: Since the abolition of the inland telegram service in the UK, the Costa Rican Government Telegram Company will not accept telegrams destined for the UK. Post: Airmail letters to Western Europe usually take between 6 and 10 days. Press: Daily newspapers printed in Spanish include Diario Extra, El Heraldo, La Nación, La Prensa Libre and La República. One weekly paper is printed in English – The Tico Times. Radio: BBC World Service (website: www.bbc.co.uk/worldservice) and Voice of America (website: www.voa.gov) can be received. From time to time the frequencies change and the most up-to-date can be found online. Passport/Visa Passport Required? Visa Required? Return Ticket Required? British Australian Canadian USA OtherEU Japanese Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes 1 3 2 2 2/3 2 Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes Yes PASSPORTS: Passport valid for at least 6 months at date of entry required by all. VISAS: Required by all except the following: (a) 1. nationals of the UK and its dependencies for stays of up to 90 days; (b) 2. nationals of Argentina, Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Canada, Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Israel, Italy, Japan, Korea (Rep), Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Netherlands, Norway, Panama, Paraguay, Poland, Portugal, Puerto Rico, Romania, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Trinidad & Tobago, Uruguay and USA for a stay of up to 90 days; (c) 3. nationals of Antigua & Barbuda, Australia, Bahamas, Bahrain, Barbados, Belize, Bolivia, Bulgaria, Chile, Dominica, El Salvador, Estonia, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Honduras, Iceland, Ireland, Jamaica, Kenya, Mexico, Monaco, New Zealand, Philippines, Qatar, Russian Federation, St Kitts & Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent & The Grenadines, San Marino, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, Slovak Republic, South Africa*, Surinam, Taiwan (China), Turkey, United Arab Emirates, Vatican City and Venezuela for a period of 30 days; (d) transit passengers continuing their journey to a third country by the same or first connecting flight within 48 hours, provided holding confirmed onward tickets and not leaving the airport (except nationals of China (PR) who do need a transit visa authorised by the Immigration Department in San José). Note: (a) *Persons holding passports issued by the former homelands of Transkei and Venda do need a visa authorised by the Immigration Department in San José. (b) Nationals of countries listed above must obtain an exit visa from the Immigration Department in San José at least 3 weeks before leaving Costa Rica. Those who stay for less than 30 days are exempt if in possession of a disembarkation card. (c) All other nationals require a visa. In some cases an authorisation from the Immigration Department in San José is also necessary and visitors should consult the Consulate for an up-to-date list. Temporary visitors must hold return or onward tickets, except those holding a visa showing an exit ticket is not required. Types of visa and cost: Tourist. Visas cost approximately £15. All passengers requiring a visa must hold documents required for the next destination. Validity: Visas are valid for 30 or 90 days depending on nationality. Contact the Immigration Department in Costa Rica for renewal or information on the extension procedure. Application to: Consulate (or Consular section of Embassy; see Contact Addresses section). Applications should be made in person. Application requirements: (a) Completed application form. (b) Two passport-size photos. (c) Passport valid for 6 months at time of entry. (d) Proof of sufficient funds to cover duration of stay. (e) Return or onward ticket. Working days required: 1-2 days, depending on nationality of applicant. Some visas need the authorisation of the Immigration Department in Costa Rica (ask the Consulate or Consular section of Embassy for details) and may take up to 3 weeks. Temporary residence: Apply to the Consulate or Consular section of Embassy. Money Currency: Costa Rican Colón (c) = 100 céntimos. Notes are in denominations of c10,000, c5000, c2000, 1000 and 500. Coins are in denominations of c100, 50, 25, 20, 10 and 5. US Dollars are also widely accepted. Currency exchange: Visitors should consult their banks for the current rate of exchange (there is no direct local quotation for sterling; the cross rate with the US Dollar is used). ATMs are available throughout the country. Credit & debit cards: Diners Club, MasterCard and Visa are all accepted; American Express slightly less so, but check with your credit or debit card company for details of merchant acceptability and other services which may be available. Travellers cheques: To avoid additional exchange rate charges, travellers are advised to take travellers cheques in US Dollars. Currency restrictions: There are no restrictions on the import and export of either local or foreign currency (but only US Dollars are exchangeable). Exchange rate indicators The following figures are included as a guide to the movements of the Costa Rican Colón against Sterling and the US Dollar: Date Nov ’03 Feb ’04 May ’04 Aug ’04 £1.00= 699.77 767.80 771.40 815.38 $1.00= 412.30 421.81 431.89 442.58 Banking hours: Mon-Fri 08000900-1500/1700. Public Holidays Jan 1 2004 New Year’s Day. Mar 19 Feast of San José (San José only). Apr 8-11 Easter. Apr 11 Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas. May 1 Labour Day. Jun 10 Corpus Christi. Jun 29 Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Jul 25 Guanacaste Annexation. Aug 2 Virgin of Los Angeles, Feast of Patroness of Costa Rica. Aug 15 Mothers’ Day and Assumption. Sep 15 Independence Day. Oct 12 Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day). Dec 8 Immaculate Conception. Dec 24 Christmas Eve. Dec 25 Christmas Day. Dec 31 New Year’s Eve. Jan 1 2005 New Year’s Day. Mar 19 Feast of San José (San José only). Mar 24-27 Easter. Apr 11 Anniversary of the Battle of Rivas. May 1 Labour Day. May 26 Corpus Christi. Jun 29 Saint Peter and Saint Paul. Jul 25 Guanacaste Annexation. Aug 2 Virgin of Los Angeles, Feast of Patroness of Costa Rica. Aug 15 Mothers’ Day and Assumption. Sep 15 Independence Day. Oct 12 Dia de la Raza (Columbus Day). Dec 8 Immaculate Conception. Dec 24 Christmas Eve. Dec 25 Christmas Day. Dec 31 New Year’s Eve. Note: Most businesses close for the whole of Holy Week and between Christmas and New Year. Health Special Precautions Certificate Required Yellow Fever Cholera Typhoid and Polio Malaria No 1 2 3 No No N/A N/A 1: Following WHO guidelines issued in 1973, a cholera vaccination certificate is no longer a condition of entry into Costa Rica. However, cases of cholera were reported in 1996 and precautions should be considered. Up-to-date advice should be sought before deciding whether these precautions should include vaccination as medical opinion is divided over its effectiveness. Consult the Health appendix for further information. 2: Typhoid is very common throughout the area. 3: Malaria risk exists throughout the year, mostly in the benign vivax form, in the rural areas below 700m, especially in the cantons of Matina, Los Chiles (Alajuela province) and Talamanca (Limón province). Lower transmission risk exists in 20 cantons in the provinces of Guanacaste, Alajuela and Heredia. There is negligible or no risk of malaria in the other cantons of the country. Food & drink: Mains water is normally heavily chlorinated, and whilst relatively safe 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 first few weeks of the stay. Milk is pasteurised and dairy products are safe for consumption. Local meat, poultry, seafood, fruit and vegetables are generally considered safe to eat. Other risks: Hepatitis A, B and C occur. Paragonimiasis (oriental lung fluke) and lymphatic and bancroftian filiariasis have been reported in Costa Rica. Dengue fever occurs. Cutaneous and mucocutaneous leishmaniasis have also been reported. Rabies is widespread throughout Central America. For those at high risk, vaccination before arrival should be considered. If you are bitten, seek medical advice without delay. For more information, consult the Health appendix. Health care: Health insurance is recommended. Reliable medical services are available in Costa Rica. Standards of health and hygiene are among the best in Latin America. Travel - International AIR: The Costa Rican national airline is Taca International Airlines (TA) (website: www.taca.com) (an amalgamation of the airlines Lacsa, Taca, Aviateca and Nica). Taca International flies direct to Costa Rica from Miami, New Orleans, Los Angeles, New York, Mexico and other destinations in Central and South America. The Visit Central America Pass is available from Grupo Taca and is an economical way to travel to Costa Rica from the USA and from Costa Rica to other Central American countries. Other airlines include American Airlines, British Airways, Continental, Delta and KLM. Approximate flight times: From San José to London is 12 hours (including stopover time), to Los Angeles is 11 hours and to New York is 7 hours. International airports: Juan Santamaría (SJO) is 17km (11 miles) northwest of the city. Coaches depart every 20 minutes (0500-2400); return pickups stop at various hotels. Buses depart to the city every 15 minutes (travel time – 20 minutes). Some hotels have shuttle services to the airport; these are 24 hours and free of charge. Taxis are also available to the city (travel time - 15 minutes). The airport in Liberia has been upgraded and may be used for some international flights. Departure tax: US$26 (or the equivalent in Costa Rican Colon) payable if staying more than 24 hours. SEA: Cruise lines calling at Costa Rican ports include Carnival, Celebrity, Costa, Crystal, Cunard, Delphin, Hapag, Holland America, Mediterranean Shipping, NCL, Princess, Radisson, Regal, Royal Caribbean, Royal Olympic, Seabourn, Silversea, Sun and Wind Star. The port of Puntarenas has been redeveloped recently. ROAD: The Inter-American Highway runs through Costa Rica from La Cruz on the Nicaraguan border through San José to Progreso on the Panamanian border. Travel - Internal AIR: SANSA (website: www.flysansa.com), a national airline, operates services between San José and provincial towns and villages. A bus is provided from the airline offices in San José to the airport. A number of smaller airlines also provide internal flights, such as Nature Air (website: www.travelair-costarica.com). ROAD: The standard of the roads is generally very good. There are 35,583km (22,110 miles) of all-weather highways including 663km (412 miles) of the Inter-American Highway and highways linking San José with the other principal towns. Traffic drives on the right. Bus: Regular services to most towns, but buses are often crowded so prebooking is advisable. Costa Rica offers a wide variety of sightseeing tours. Most tour companies feature bilingual guides and round-trip transportation from hotels. For full details, contact the Instituto Costarricense de Turismo (see Contact Addresses section). Taxi: Numerous and inexpensive in San José. The taxis are coloured red (except those serving the Juan Santamaría International Airport which are orange). Taxis are usually metered. Car hire: Major car hire companies as well as local firms have offices in San José. Distances are measured in kilometres. A speed limit of 88kph (55mph) is enforced on most highways. Documentation: Drivers must have a national licence or International Driving Permit. URBAN: San José has privately run bus services, charging fares on a two-zone system. TRAVEL TIMES: The following chart gives approximate travel times (in hours and minutes) from San José to other major cities/towns. Air Alajuela Cartago Heredia Puntarenas Liberia Quepos - Road 0.30 0.30 0.20 2.00 0.25 3.00 0.30 3.30 Puerto Limón 0.25 3.00 Accommodation HOTELS: There is a good range of reasonably priced hotel accommodation. Most proprietors speak English. San José has many hotels, from the extravagant to the smaller, family-run hotels in the less fashionable districts. There are several good hotels out of town near the airport. Larger hotels have swimming pools and other sports facilities. The majority have their own restaurants which are generally good and reasonably priced. Hotel tariffs are liable to alteration at any time. A 3 per cent sales tax plus 3 per cent tourism tax is added to hotel prices. Outside the capital, charges and the standard of comfort are lower. Grading: Hotels are graded from A to D according to price range. The A-grade category accounts for 20 per cent of all hotels and costs from the equivalent of US$100. About 20 per cent of hotels are in the B-range and cost US$50-70. C-grade hotels cost US$30-50 and D-range hotels, about 30 per cent, cost US$10-30. For further information check with the Costa Rica Chamber of Hotels online (website: www.costaricanhotels.com). CAMPING/CARAVANNING: Facilities exist at San Antonio de Belén, 8km (5 miles) from San José. There is also a camping and caravan site close to Alajuela. Most, but not all, national parks allow camping at designated sites (see Resorts & Excursions section). Climate In the Central Valley, where the main centres of population are located, the average temperature is 22°C (72°F). In the coastal areas the temperature is much hotter. The rainy season starts in May and finishes in November. The ‘warm’ dry season is December to May, though temperature differences between summer and winter are slight. Required clothing: Lightweight cottons and linens most of the year, warmer clothes for cooler evenings. Waterproofing is necessary during the rainy season. Introduction Costa Rica is the Central American state forming the land-bridge between North and South America and it has a surprising diversity of terrain (see General section). In the cities and towns, the country’s Spanish heritage provides the main features of interest. Elsewhere, Costa Rica’s national parks are its greatest glory. SAN JOSÉ: The capital was founded in 1737 and is a pleasant mixture of traditional and modern Spanish architecture. Places of interest include the Teatro Nacional, the Palacio Nacional (where the legislative assembly meets), and the Parque Central, east of which is the Cathedral. The National Museum and the Museum of Gold are also worth a visit. There are numerous other parks in the city, including the Parque Nacional, the Parque Bolivar and the Parque Morazán. Excursions: San José is a good centre for excursions into the beautiful Meseta Central region. The nearby town of Cartago was founded in 1563, but there are no old buildings as earthquakes destroyed the town in 1841 and 1910. However, some of the reconstruction was in the colonial style. Excursions can be made from here to the crater of Irazú and to the beautiful valley of Orosi, with its colonial church. CARIBBEAN COAST: There are numerous beaches, ports and towns worth visiting. The biggest is Puerto Limón; others include Guapiles, Tortuguero, Barra del Colorado, Cahuita and Puerto Viejo. PACIFIC COAST: Costa Rica’s principal Pacific port for freight is Puntarenas. The beaches around it are rather poor, although San Lucas Island, just off the port, has magnificent beaches. Another island worth a visit is Isla del Coco where a great hoard of treasure is supposed to have been buried by pirates. Puerto Caldera, a few miles south of Puntarenas, has recently become the country’s premier port of call for cruise liners. Quepos, Nicoya, Liberia and Samara are the region’s other major towns. There are beautiful beaches in the Guanacaste area, near Quepos in the Central Pacific and near Golfito in the South. National Parks Well-kept and well-guarded national parks and nature reserves cover nearly 26 per cent of the country’s territory. Information and permits can be obtained from: Fundación de Parques Nacionales, 300 Metros Norte, 175 Metros Este, Iglesia Santa Teresita, San José (tel: 257 2239; fax: 222 4732; e-mail: email@example.com; website: www.fpncostarica.org). In addition to the following, Manuel Antonio National Park and the Barra del Colorado National Wildlife Refuge are worth a visit, and many of the tiny islands in the Gulf of Nicoya, near Puntarenas, are ‘biological protection areas’. Braulio Carrillo National Park: Located in the central region of the country just 23km (14 miles) north of San José. It has five kinds of forest, some with characteristic rainforest vegetation. Orchids and ferns, jaguars, ocelots and the Baird tapir may be seen here. There are trails through the park and many lookouts. Poás Volcano National Park: As the name suggests, this park contains the smouldering Poás Volcano. It contains the only dwarf cloudforest in Costa Rica. The crater of the volcano is 1.5km (1-mile) wide and contains a hot-water lake which changes colour from turquoise to green to grey. Access is possible by road. Tortuguero National Park: This park protects the Atlantic green turtle egg-laying grounds; it is in an area of great ecological diversity. Its network of canals and lagoons serves as waterways for transportation and exploration. There are camping facilities and lodges. Santa Rosa National Park: The last large stand of tropical dry forest in Central America can be found here. There are 10 habitats including extensive savannahs and deciduous and non-deciduous forests. In addition to its abundant wildlife, recreational facilities are provided on some of the beaches. Corcovado National Park: The virgin rainforest in this park contains many endangered species. It has the largest tree in Costa Rica, a ceibo which is 70m (230ft) high. Additionally there is Cano Island Biological Reserve, a bird sanctuary. Cahuita National Park: This park protects the only coral reef on Costa Rica’s Carribbean coastline. Its other attractions include howler and white-faced monkeys, racoons and 500 species of fish. Chirripó National Park: The centrepiece here is Costa Rica’s highest mountain. Most notably the park is home to the quetzal, said to be Latin America’s most beautiful bird.