Costa Rican Facts

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Costa Rica FACTS

Time Zone – Costa Rica is on Central Standard Time (US), the same as Chicago.

When to Visit – Costa Rica basically has two seasons (wet and dry). As far as temperature; year around you can bet it’s always somewhere between 70 and 90 degrees, depending. Most tourists visit Costa Rica during its dry season, which is December through April, so expect to pay a little more for everything, and in some of the more popular destinations, accommodations can be a little more difficult to come by. The wet season, which is May through November, is a great time to visit Costa Rica, especially if you’re traveling on a budget. Although it can rain hard during this time and does; it’s mostly in the afternoons and evenings, the mornings and early afternoons are quite pleasant and a great opportunity to take in a tour or explore the beautiful surroundings found in every destination in Costa Rica.

Breakdown of the Weather – Generally, the Caribbean cost is more susceptible to frequent rain squalls and tends to have the opposite weather patterns of the rest of the country. On the Pacific side the northwest regions of Guanacaste is the driest part of the country and home to the unique Dry Tropical Forest. The Southern Pacific region of the Osa Peninsula tends to get the most rainfall but with the exception of the end of September and October, most showers do not last long. Nonetheless, whereas in the past one could expect the rainy season to start like clockwork about the second week of May, the effects of global warming are being felt and the once consistent weather patterns have become much more difficult to predict. Basically, it comes down to this: If you don’t like the weather, just wait a moment, it will soon change.

Major CitiesSan Jose, the capital of Costa Rica, is the most populated city in the country with about a million inhabitants. Based on population the other major cities in Costa Rica are: Alajuela, Cartago, Heredia, Liberia, Limon, and Puntarenas. NOTE: many travel companies put together packages deals where San Jose is the ‘home base’ and you’re merely shuttled back and forth in and out of the city for day trips and tours for up to 5 days in a row before moving on to some other destination. We would discourage this as Costa Rica has much more to offer than just another big ‘anywhere’ city. That being said, San Jose does offer many attractions in and around the city and should not be missed, but there is SO much more to Costa Rica, so plan accordingly.

Entry/Exit/ Immunization Information – You will need a valid passport for everyone you’re traveling with when entering Costa Rica. Most countries including the US, Canada and most of Europe can visit for up to 90 days without getting a visa. Immunizations are neither required nor needed when traveling to Costa Rica. If you plan on spending a lot of time in the more rural regions of Costa Rica and you want to take precautions, avoid a problem with a dose of chloroquine (marketed in Costa Rica as Aralen) and begin two weeks before your arrival. It goes without saying, but always consult a physician first. When leaving Costa Rica, don’t forget the departure tax- currently it’s $26. per person. So a group of 4 traveling on a budget will be hit with a bill of $104. when leaving, so plan accordingly.

Major Religion – Roman Catholicism is the official religion in Costa Rica. They are steeped in religion but tolerant when it comes to foreigners. They have many celebrations and holidays here in Costa Rica and they are based on the church calendar.

Electricity – 110-volt AC service is the norm throughout Costa Rica, but bring a two-prong adapter, as most outlets cannot accept three-prong grounded plugs.

Pacific Coast Beaches – The beaches along the western coast of Costa Rica are very popular with the surfing and backpacking crowd on a budget and particularly busy during the dry season when many such tourist are taking in all the sun, surf and sand the beaches have to offer. It should be noted that the Nicoya Peninsula, in the north, is considered the ‘best of the best’ when it comes to surf and sand.

Caribbean Coast BeachesThe Pacific Coast has the upperhand over the Caribbean when it comes to surfing in Costa Rica, but the beaches are just as pristine. The Caribbean side does have a few good surfing spots on the southern coast near Panama, especially Puerto Viejo with its famous break, “Salsa Brava,” which may be in fact, Costa Rica's BEST break.

Costa Rican Culture is steeped in tradition and is very family oriented. Tico’s as they are affectionately called are hospitable and friendly people. They have a strong sense of traditional values and familial obligations due largely to the influence the Church plays in their everyday life. Tico families tend to be large. Costa Rica places a high value on education as they provide free elementary and secondary education. Costa Rica has four major public universities and an abundance of private schools.

Costa Rica Currency – The colon is the standard Costa Rican currency although US dollars are readily accepted though out most of the country. [Exchanging] your money is not a problem in Costa Rica with its many exchange booths and banks all around the country. It is advisable to carry colons for the smaller mom and pop eateries and local markets and such, but you could easily get along using US dollars and major credit cards. Leave the Travelers Checks at home, they're accepted here in the bigger and more established hotels / restaurants / tour companies, but many smaller places WILL NOT except them because they take too long to 'clear' at the bank. Cashing them in could mean long lines at the bank. Trust us, don't use them.

Business Hours Banks are typically open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm, although many have begun to offer extended hours. Offices are open Monday through Friday from 8am to 5pm (many close for 1 hr. at lunch). Stores are usually open Monday through Saturday from 9am to 6pm (some close for 1 hr. at lunch). Malls in the bigger cities generally stay open until 8 or 9pm. Most bars are open until 1 or 2am, but during the 'rainy' season, closing times often depend on the amount of customers at the time.

Customs - Visitors to Costa Rica are officially entitled to bring in 500 grams of tobacco, 5 liters of liquor, and US$500 in merchandise. Cameras, computers, and electronic equipment for personal use are permitted duty-free. Customs officials in Costa Rica are often lax in checking tourists' luggage.

Telephone Numbers - This should be noted, since it's NEW- Costa Rica now uses 8-digit telephone numbers. Calling to a land line dial 2 followed by the seven digit number. Calling a cell phone, begin with 8 then the number.

Drugstores - Called farmacias in Spanish, drugstores are quite common throughout the country. Those at hospitals and major clinics are often open 24 hours a day.

Liquor Laws - Alcoholic beverages are sold every day of the week throughout the year, with the exception of the 2 days before Easter and the 2 days before and after a presidential election. That said, even during those times, you may still purchase wine - go figure. The legal drinking age is 18, although it's rarely enforced, but in San Jose expect to be carded in the more popular clubs and discos.