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Monthly updated information for everyone who wants to travel to Costa Rica.


Last update: 21 August 2013

 

 

PACKING LIST

A good preparation for your trip helps to have a worryless vacation. When you are planning a roundtrip through Costa Rica and will visit diferent parts of the country it is recommended to bring these items: light travel clothing,  raingear (poncho), a sweater (it may be cool and even cold in the highlands), sandels, hiking shoes, a sun cap, watershoes, moneybelt, binoculars, lintern, suncream, insect repelent, evt plug adapter (Costa Rican standard is the same as American standard)

 

Crossing the Border

Your passport must be valid for six months more if you enter Costa Rica. You need a return ticket or otherwise be able to prove that you are going to leave the country. You can stay for 90 days in Costa Rica. After this period you’ll have to leave the country for at least 72 hours before entering it again (for a maximum period of 90 days).

Please, notice that if you fly via the United States, your passport must be machine legible. New rules of the US government require you to apply a permission to enter the country, also if you just pass by in transit. This permission is obtainable on the following site: www.cbp.gov/xp/cgov/travel/id_visa/esta/

Maybe you’ll need a visa. Check with the US-embassy in your country. In case you need a visa for the US, check possibilities to fly via other countries to Costa Rica.

 

The Airport in Alajuela is within a half hour distance of the capital San José. If you leave the airport to the left you can buy tickets for airport caps (± $28 to San José centre). A hundred meters in front of the exit is a bus stop. From there you can take buses to San José, Alajuela or Heredia. You have to pay the fee in colones (± 400 to the capital); dollars are not accepted in public buses.

 

Leaving Costa Rica.

Take into account that you’ll have to pay a departure tax when you leave the country ($29, to be paid in dollars, colones or with visacard).

 

Safety

Costa Rica is a country where the normal special safety observations need to be considered. The quiet, relaxed atmosphere and kindness of the local people makes Costa Rica a very pleasant country to travel through. The danger may be: too much confidence. So I like to stress here to be very alert during your trip. Also in Costa Rica there are people who aim at innocent tourists. Everywhere you come be alert on pickpockets.

Especially in local buses to the most visited areas it is recommended to take valuable stuff on your lap or otherwise to look after them very carefully.

There are also more reports of robbery in downtown San José. It is wise to carry your valuable stuff in a money belt on your body and your bag on your belly. Don’t wear jewellery in the streets of the capital.

Some hotels don’t have a safe on the room. In this case it is recommended to leave valuable things in the hotel’s safe. Don’t leave these behind on your room.

If you are victim of criminal behaviour you have to make a report at a local office of the OIJ (organisation for judicial investigation, say: oh, ie, ghottah). 911 is the number to dial in case of an emergency.

 

Swimming in one of the warm shore waters of Costa Rica is delicious. But you have to be very alert on strong currents. Dangerous coastal waters sometimes are marked by a red flag (a green flag means that it’s safe to swim). If there are no flags and nobody is swimming it makes sense to ask locally if it’s safe to swim. Always stay close to the coastline.

 

Transportation

The most important and cheap way of public transportation is the bus. San José is a transportation hub from where buses leave to all parts of the country. You can find here a timetable for buses leaving to the most important tourist destinations of the country. It is a wise thing to buy your tickets one day before you leave. You can buy them at the bus terminal from where your bus leaves.

There are private bus companies (Interbus, Greyline). They maintain a network between the different tourist destinations. Of course they are more expensive than the public buses. But they are also more comfortable and the travel time in general is shorter.

For those travelling with a wider budget but with less time exists the possibility to take a domestic flight. The big destinations lay within 1 hour and a quarter flying time from San José. Sansa and Nature Air are companies offering flights within the country.

In the cities taxis abound. They are easy to identify by their red colour and yellow triangle on the front doors. You pay 560 colones for the first kilometre ($1.15). The legal cabs all have taxi-meters (they are called ‘María’. You stop them at the street by just lifting your arm. Most time there are taxi ranks at the central square in the cities.

 

Communication

Telephone: Since 2011 various mobile telephone companies are active in Costa Rica: the national Kölbi, Movistar, Claro are active in the country.  At this moment  Kölbi offers the best coverage. Ne conscious that coverage in the mountainranges is not always satisfying. It is quite easy to get a chip and a national mobile number. Ther are numerous phone-shops. The costs are about 3000 colones. Do not forget to take a identification document with you . Recharging isn ’t either a problem for having abundant recharge points everywhere.

If you do not want to buy a chip, an alternative is to buy ‘Kolibri’-telephone cards that you can use from every phone. A $10 card is sufficient for a 15 minutes call to Europe. Scratch away a code on the backside of the card. Tip 199 and follow the instructions! These telephone cards are available in stores with the sign: ‘tarjetas telefónicas’.

By dialling 116 you can ask for a collect call



Internet: Most larger and middlesized hotels in Costa Rica offer free Wi-Fi for their guests.

Post: Post offices are called: ‘Correos’. A stamp for a postcard to Europe costs 165 colones. Mail services are quite reliable. Normally it takes a week for a postcard to cross the ocean. In most hotels you can leave your mail. The surest way is to bring it to the local post office.

There is philatelic museum established in the main post office in San José centre (Calle 2, Avenidas 2&3). You can buy special stamps there. Opening hours 7.30-18.00 Monday-Friday, 7.30-12.00 Saturdays.

 

 

Climate

Costa Rica has a tropical climate. Maximum temperatures in San José vary between 22 °C and 30 °C, at the Pacific and Caribbean coasts around 30 °C. It may be very humid. Rainfall varies between 1500 and 7000 mm.

Seasons

The idea of Costa Rica having two seasons isn’t entirely correct. There is a difference between the climate in the Pacific (west) coast and Atlantic (east) coast. The weather in the Pacific is better predictable: it is dry between December and April/May. In the dry season there is no rainfall whatsoever. In the rainy season (May/November) you must be prepared for a heavy shower in the afternoons.

On the Caribbean side of the country the weather is less predictable and less stable. Through the year rainy days follow days with clear blue skies. Months with low probability of rain are: September, October and November.

Besides this Costa Rica is known for its ‘micro-climates’. Climate depends on height. And heights vary heavily in the country. It means that you can encounter changing weather conditions while travelling through Costa Rica. One day you can leave in hot sunshiny weather, encounter fog and rain halfway and arriving at your destination under a blue sky (the order may change!). And maybe you just travelled for a hundred kilometres! So always be prepared for drastic changing weather conditions: take sun block, a cap, a poncho and a sweater with you!

 

HEALTH

For questions about vaccinations it is wise to ask your medical doctor for advice before you are going to travel.

Healthcare in Costa Rica stands on a high level. In the private hospitals the service is quick and very professional in general. Medical tourism is a growing sector in Costa Rica!

 

 

Money & Spending

The Costa Rican national currency is the colon.  De biggest note is 20.000 colones (± $40), folowed by  10.000 (± $20), 5000 (± $10), 2000 (± $4) en 1000 (± $2).

Besides colones, American Dollars are accepted almost everywhere. Bring small notes ($1, $5, $10 or $20). Euros or English pounds are accepted very uncommonly. You can change them (Banco Nacional, BCR). But it may take quiet a lot of time. A better idea is to leave them at home.

Rate of the colon against one dollar: $1 = ± 500 colones

Rate of the colon against one euro:  €1 = ± 650 colones



It is NOT recommended to change money inside the airport. The exchange rates are much lower than normal. But there are cash dispensers.



Cash dispensers: In almost all bigger places it is possible to withdraw money from cash dispensers. Most of the times you’ll get Costa Rican colones, at some banks it is possible to withdraw dollars (BAC San José, for example).

Credit card: Paying with credit cards is possible in almost every place. VISA, AMEX and Mastercard are widely accepted.



Costa Rica is not a cheap country. Expect to spend an average of $35 daily per person for eating if you are not a budget traveller nor looking for a luxury vacation.



Restaurants include 13% taxes and 10% service costs in their prices. Please note that these additional costs are not always included in the prices in the menu: they are charged when paying the bill.

 

Tips are most of the times included in the bill you pay in restaurants. Extra tipping is always appreciated.  Tipping is usual in hotels for maids, bellboys, drivers and guides (in short: people offering service in the tourist sector).

Tipping is not usual for people offering service in the non-tourist sector (supermarkets, taxi drivers, public buses). Bargaining for better prices is not a nationwide phenomenon. Please, just limit this behaviour to the souvenir shops. It is very easy to offend a Tico if you try to do it elsewhere!

 

 

 ‘Scary’ creatures

This is a topic you can write about shortly or very extendedly. I’ll be short. Costa Rica is a tropical country where live insects, reptiles and other animals, who are considered ‘scary’ by some people.  There is no way avoiding them in Costa Rica, but in general the experiences are not that bad as expected by some. Be prepared. Take insect repellent with you (always) and start using if you notice mosquitoes or other insects. There is no product that gives 100% protection. No doubt you’ll find little ‘pets’ in your hotel room (gecko’s for example). Impossible to avoid them in tropical Costa Rica!

 

 

 

Miscellany

 

Electricity: Voltage in Costa Rica is 110. ‘American’ plugs with flat pins are in use. Bring adapters with you if you are from Europe! Black outs are quite common, especially in the countryside. Don’t forget where you packed your flashlight.

 

Time in Costa Rica is Greenwich - 6

Exit tax : If you leave Costa Rica by air you have to pay a tax of $29 per person. You can pay it in colones, dollars or with creditcard.

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