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COSTA RICA

Known as the "Switzerland of the Americas," Costa Rica has a strong democratic tradition and a long history of dispute resolution.

Owing in part to their impressive 95 percent literacy rate and national education system, Costa Ricans are a self-assured and hospitable people. The most stable democracy in Central America, Costa Rica's voting system ensures honest, secure elections. The indigenous people gained their right to vote in 1994.

General Information

Clothing:

Pack light for your travels. The highland areas can be very cold, so pack a sweater if you are going there. For the lowland areas light, loose – fitting shirts and pants are essential. A wide – brimmed hat and sunglasses are recommended for the beach. See our travel tips page at the end of each section for more information.

Communications:

Direct – dial telephone service, facsimile, telex, radio, internet service and cable television are all available. Bilingual operator assistance for international calls is –116 Local Information –113 Long distance information –124

Credit Cards and Travelers Checks:

Most major credit cards are accepted throughout the country, but VISA seems to be the most commonly seen. Some smaller businesses will only accept cash. Travelers checks can be easily cashed but some banks will only accept a certain kind. Banks also usually require your passport in order to cash these checks.

Currency Exchange:

The official currency is the Colón and is easier to use than dollars, although US dollars are accepted throughout the county. Currency can be exchanged at banks, although they often require your passport. Most hotels have an exchange counter. You can also exchange money at the International Airport.

Customs:

Arrivals are allowed 500 cigarettes plus five liters or wine or spirits duty free.

Departure Tax:

The average rate is US $18 to depart by air. Land and sea exits are not charged.

Electricity:

100-volt AC is found nationwide. A few outlying areas use their own power source so check ahead before traveling.

Government:

Costa Rica is a democratic republic. Elections are held every four years.

Hospitals:

Health care in Costa Rica is very good and sanitary standards are high. Firs class hospitals are found throughout San José and some of the other largely populated areas.

Language:

Spanish is the official language. English is spoken in tourist areas throughout the country.

Population:

Costa Rica has a population or 4 million people. Over thirty percent live in the Central Valley which comprises only 4% of the entire country.

Taxes:

There is a 13% sales tax at hotels, restaurants and most service industries, and an additional 3% tourist tax at hotels.

Telephone:

Direct – dial service is efficient and there are more telephones per capita than in any other Latin American country. Many international long distance services are available. Check with your hotel front desk for more information.

Time Zone:

Costa Rica is the same as U.S. central standard time but does not observe daylight savings time (GMT – 6:00). Tipping:

A 10% tip in a restaurant is appropriate, but most restaurants add it directly to your bill, so check whether this is the case before paying an additional tip. Taxi drivers generally do not receive a tip. Tour guides generally do.

Topography:

Costa Rica is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the south by Panamá. It has both a Caribbean and a Pacific coast. A series of volcanic mountain chains runs from the Nicaraguan border in the northwest to the Panamanian border in the south east, splitting the country in two. In the center or these ranges is a high – altitude plain, with coastal lowlands on either side. Over half the population lives on this plain, which has fertile volcanic soils. The Caribbean coast is 132 miles long and Pacific coast is 635 miles long.

Water:

Unless specified otherwise, the water is safe to drink in all areas of the country.

Currency exchange:

We recommend US dollars, once other currencies can be more difficult to exchange. You may exchange at banks and hotels; also some business accept dollars Regarding travellers' checks, banks are your best option, since they are not that readily accepted in the commerce except tourist companies. Dollars are also recommended.

Highways:

With approximately 36.000 km., Costa Rica has the longest road infrastructure of central America, and practically the whole country is linked. Unfortunately, their condition is poor, due to the lack of maintenance. We recommend renting jeeps and 4x4 vehicles.There is not a lot of road signals, and sometimes you will find no indications at intersections. Just ask, you will always find someone to help you out.

Mail:

There are not many mailboxes on the street, but there are at cabins, hotels and other tourist locations. Stamps can only be bought at the offices of Correos de Costa Rica, the national mail authority, from Monday to Friday, from 7:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., but some branches stay open until 7:30 p.m. The main office in San José provides certain services until 8:00 p.m.It takes a minimum of three to four days for your mail to arrive to the United States, and one week to reach major European cities.

There is a mail list in each Correos de Costa Rica office throughout the country.

International Couriers

Ask for the nearest branch office:

Company            Phone                 Fax           
Aerocasillas   255.45.67        257.11.87
DHL                290.30.20        290.40.00
EMS*               233.27.62       255.49.51
Jetex              292.05.05       231.14.88
Lacsa Courier 221.01.11      233.96.70
UPS                 257.74.47      257.53.43*

Also at Correos de Costa Rica main offices in San José and in other regions of the country.

Addresses in Costa Rica:

Avenues (Ave. in our guide) go from W to E, and streets (St.), from N to S; they have numbers only in downtown San José and other major cities. However, nobody uses them for orientation; they rather use references, which range from simple to curious: a tree, a church, a drug store, a grocery store, etc.. Then they combine the four points of the compass and approximate distances in mt.More curious is the fact that, sometimes, the reference in question has either disappeared or changed name. An couple of examples: from the old Embassy of the United States 100 mt. W; or, from the "pulpería" (grocery store) La Luz 25 mt. N.

A tip: the main entrances of Costa Rica's churches face West.

San José, the capital, is divided by a fundamental E-W axis: it starts at Paseo Colón, continues through Central Ave. (called Cuesta de Moras when reaching Los Yoses) and ends in the road to San Pedro and Curridabat; then it becomes the road to Cartago. In June of 1996 a big portion of the Centra Ave. (Ave. 0) was transformed in a pedestrian boulevard, with lights and plants. Sometimes you can hear groups of older marimba players practicing their art.

Holidays

Smoking/No smoking

By law, in Costa Rica the must be a reserved space for smokers in all public places in the country. Many tourist and entertainment centers have the famous little sign that proclaims "the courtesy of choice", by the International Hotel and Restaurant Association (IHRA). If you are a smoker and there is not a place to smoke, the Costa Rican's quiet and social nature will always let you accomodate.

Tipping:

Make sure your receipt shows the 13% sales tax and the 10% service (tip), mandated by law. You can add a supplement if the service deserves it.SecurityUnfortunately, Costa Rica cannot escape the worldwide wave of insecurity, but it is still one of the safest countries in the world.

Knowing how to travel also involves taking care of one's belongings. Tourist sites distribute a Passport for your safety, prepared by the ICT in several languages. It provides several tips and reminds about basic safety rules. For example, we do not recommend a stroll on the beach, alone, at night, or to park in dark zones. Souvenirs/CraftsIn each town there are artisans whose works do not go beyond their community. This does not mean they are less authentic or lack quality and originality. Usually there is a small souvenir shop at hotels, cabins and such. A few recommendations on what to look for:

TaxisEach city has its own legal taxicab service; they use the meter or "maría". It is better to negotiate a price for long distances before getting into the cab.They can be the only available means of transportation in rural areas. For your own safety, it is better that the micro-entrepreneur where you are staying get if for you. Many tourist micro-entrepreneurs ow