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Costa Rica Info
Culture: The locals refer to themselves as ticos or ticas (female). The tico ideal is that of a very friendly, helpful, laid back, unhurried, educated and environmentally aware people, with little worry for deadlines or the normal stresses of United States life. Visitors from the United States are often referred to as gringos, which is virtually always congenial in nature. The phrase "Pura Vida" (literally pure life) is an unofficial motto and descriptor for life in Costa Rica. It encapsulates the pervading ideology of living in peace in a calm, unflustered manner, appreciating a life surrounded by nature and family and friends.
National Language: Spanish. However, English is spoken all over the country.
Entry Requirements: A valid passport with at least one blank visa page. The expiration date of your passport must be greater than either 30 or 180 days - depending on your citizenship - from your date of entry to Costa Rica.
A pre-paid airline ticket to exit Costa Rica or proof of financial resources ($400.00US - $1,000.00US in cash, traveler checks, and/or credit cards) to pay for the market value of a one-way airline ticket (either to return to your home country or to go to another country)
Taxes: There is a 13% sales tax and an additional 3% tourist tax at hotels.
Departure tax: $26.00 U.S. by air. Land and sea exits are not charged
Time Zone: US Central Standard. (Daylight saving time is not observed)
The exchange rate is around 500 colones to the dollar.
Credit cards are taken in the larger hotels and restaurnats, but cash is preferred in the smaller places.
You may be charged an extra percentage to cover the owner's cost for use of a credit card.
Large bills are a problem for the smaller shops. Your change is always in colones.
American dollars are accepted nearly all places, but keep a supply of colones for tips, purchases and meals in small shops.
ATM's are available in the bigger cities. Traveller's checks are frowned upon, except in banks.
Clothing: The tone here is casual wear - it is not necessary to dress up to go to the theater or to dinner. Comfortable lightweight is best. In the higher elevations, San Jose, the volcanoes, or Monteverde, sweaters or light jackets are suggested.
One or two swim suits
Lightweight hiking boots with a good tread for hikes
Walking or athletic shoes with a good tread for walks
Plastic or waterproof sandals or river shoes
Insect repellant - at least 75% DEET. (See Insect Repellant topic below.)
Sunscreen - with high sun protection factor, such as SPF 29-40
Hat or cap
Lots of film (expensive here)
Check batteries in camera
Light natural, blends of cotton and a synthetic such as nylon
(some long sleeved shirts & pants in case of pesky bugs)
Poncho or rain gear
Light jacket or sweater for higher elevations and chilly nights in San Jose
Plastic bags - for keeping books, binoculars and other items dry, and for wet clothing.
Insect and Tick Repellent
One effective way to arm yourself against the little pests is to get a bottle of Sawyer's Permethrin and spray it on your clothes before you start your trip. It repels and kills ticks and mosquitoes. It's oderless and non-staining and lasts for 2 weeks.
Caution - this is for clothing, not for your skin. Follow directions on the bottle.
Personal story: my family used this stuff, came down, spent one week on the Caribbean side and another on the Pacific side. They also brought light, long sleeved shirts and pants for the evenings when the little guys are out feeding.
So what happened? Didn't see 3 mosquitos the whole time.
Still, there are mosquitos and ticks around - just not as many as you might imagine.
Banks: Monday - Friday 9 am to 3 pm.
Government offices: Monday - Friday 8 am to 5 pm
Retail Stores: Monday - Friday 9 am to 6 pm or 7 pm
Schedule your activities to accommodate the traditional Latin American Siesta. Almost everything shuts down between 12 and 2 pm for a sandwich and snooze. (Why don't we do that?)
Saturdays most stores are open. Sundays almost everything is closed.
Tipping: You don't have to tip in restaurants in Costa Rica since a 10% service charge is added to your bill automatically.
However, if the service was exceptional, you'll feel good about slipping the waiter a few dollars extra.
Tour guides and Taxi guides can be tipped from $3 to $20 US depending on the tour.
Street Vendors: There are many native people who make their living selling merchandise on the street.
Government: Costa Rica is a democracy with friendly people and no army. As with many Latin American countries, the beauracratic wheels grind very slowly.
Safety: Generally, it's a very safe country. However, as in most places (especially American cities), it's best to avoid being alone at night in strange places. Violent crimes, such as rape or murder, are very rare, but thefts are not unusual. This is a poor country, so it is best not to flash a lot of money. Travel during the daytime. In remote areas, it's best to use a reputable guide.
Electricity: It is 110 volts. Plugs are two pronged without the grounding prong.
Dancing: Costa Ricans love to dance. You'll find salsa places and discotheques in almost every city.
Weather: This is a tropical country, so heat and humidity are the norm. Climates do vary in different parts of the country at different times of the year and different elevations.
Caribbean side (includes Tortuguero, Puerto Limon, Puerto Viejo,Punta Uva and Manzinillo): The Caribbean side's driest months are November, January & December. The wettest months run from November thru January, with sunny mornings and rain most afternoons. However, be prepared for rain at any time during the year in this part of the country. Aside from the occasional downpour, rain is usually not a big deal. The two sides have about the same rainfall, but it's more spread out on the Caribbean side. It's also a little cooler on this side.
Pacific side: The rainy season here lasts from May into November, peaking at 12 inches (30 centimeters) in September. The effects during this time are much the same as on the Caribbean. The highs are usually in the upper 80's Fahrenheit (low 30's Celsius). The lows are mid-70's Fahrenheit (mid 20's Celsius).
Higher elevations, such as Arenal and Monteverde are a bit cooler and you may want a sweater in the evening. Temperature is more a function of elevation than season in Costa Rica.
Bottom line: come prepared for warm and a little wet, but don't worry too much about it.
Toilets: There's no such thing as a public facility in Costa Rica. You will find restrooms in restaurants, gas stations and some roadside cafes. Bring your own toilet paper, just in case.
Important Note: Sewer systems in Costa Rica are NOT built to handle paper. Instead, there is always a waste basket next to the toilet for the paper. Be sure to use it.