About Costa Rica:
A bit larger than Vermont and New Hampshire combined, Costa Rica is a vastly biodiverse nation. The Continental Divide runs down its center like a spine, rolling out to plains and forests that end at the Caribbean Sea to the east and the Pacific Ocean to the west. There are 14 volcanoes in this lush, fertile land; six of them are active. About a quarter of the nation falls under the National System of Conservation Areas, or SINAC.
Costa Rica is among the most stable and prosperous countries in Latin America. It has no standing army. Ecotourism is a key part of its economic growth and it has been rated first in the Americas in the Environmental Performance Index. Costa Rica is a democratic republic. Its capital is San José.
Language: The official language of Costa Rica is Spanish. While knowledge of the local language is not necessary, you may want to learn some fun and useful phrases to use during your walking tour. The effort seldom goes unappreciated and by trying some greetings and salutations with a smile, your interactions are likely to grow into rewarding exchanges. See BBC Languages for helpful hints. Country Walkers also recommends a phrase book or two in our Reading Guide that you’ll receive after you reserve.
Tico and Tica are the terms Costa Ricans use to refer to themselves. It’s derived either from the Spanish suffix for small—“ito”—or from hermanitico (a nonstandard way of saying “little brother”).
Pura Vida! The expression for both hello and good-bye in Costa Rica that literally translates to “pure life” would be rendered more grammatically correct in Spanish as vida pura, so what does the expression actually mean? Most succinctly, perhaps “cool,” or perhaps “full of life” or “life is great,” or perhaps the French expression “la vie est belle” captures it best.
Life in Costa Rica
Shopping and banking hours: Shops and stores are generally open Monday to Saturday between 9:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. (and many close for one hour for lunch); most shopping malls are open continuously until 8:00 or 9:00 p.m. Banks are open from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m., Monday to Friday.
Meal times: Breakfast is served at hotels from 7:30 a.m. to 10:00 a.m. In restaurants, lunch is served from 11:30 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and dinner is usually served from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. A 10:00 a.m. morning coffee break and 4:00 p.m. afternoon snack are also common.
Tipping: In restaurants, bars, and hotels (including room service) a 10 percent service charge is included, and it is not necessary to tip an additional amount. Taxi drivers do not get tipped, but you can round up the fare. For luggage assistance, tip 400 CRC per bag.
Costa Rica public holidays: Costa Rican public holidays, festivals, or calendars of events may affect your travel planning. Visit the Costa Rican tourist board’s site for a list of public holidays and other events and festivals by month: visitcostarica.com/ict/paginas/informacion.asp.
Oxcarts of Costa Rica. The colorfully painted oxcart, or carreta, is Costa Rica’s most famous traditional craft and a symbol of its agricultural heritage. Once regularly used to transport produce as well as people, the cart’s spokeless wheels, which help it cut through mud, were originally painted in a pattern that identified the driver’s origin. Although still seen regularly in parades and other celebrations, today’s carretas are used as transport only in the most rural of regions. A souvenir distinct to Costa Rica, local artisans continue the tradition by constructing and richly decorating all sizes of oxcart from tabletop models to life-size replicas.
Rice and beans (gallo pinto) are the basic staples of Costa Rican meals and they accompany everything from eggs to steak to seafood. Appetizers (bocas) include black bean soup, stuffed tortillas, and ceviche (marinated seafood salad). A main course of chicken, beef, or seafood is often served with hearts of palm and plantains. Tropical fruits abound in Costa Rica, the most common of which are mangos, papayas, pineapples, and bananas. Cuisine in restaurants can vary from traditional Costa Rican to Italian and French. Vegetarians should note that the main source of non-meat protein in the country is beans. Foods derived from soy protein are very rare.
Food tips: Country Walkers and our guides take great care to select and work with hotel properties and restaurants that meet our rigorous standards in food safety. Outside of these establishments, it is wise to avoid eating foods sold by local street vendors, peeled fruit or unwashed vegetables. We recommend following the simple rule, “If you can’t peel it, don’t eat it.” Avoid fresh salads, with the exception of those served in fine restaurants, and fruit juices unless they are 100 percent juice.
Water: Although water in most of Costa Rica is said to be safe to drink, visitors sometimes become ill shortly after arriving. We therefore advise that you drink only bottled water.
Costa Rica is a tropical country and has distinct wet and dry seasons. Some regions, however, have rain year-round and others are very dry and sunny for most of the year. Temperatures vary primarily with elevation, not with season. On the coast, it is hot year-round, while in the mountains, it can be cool at night. Generally speaking, the rainy season (or green season) is from May to mid-December, while the dry season (summer) is from mid-December to April. Even during the rainy season, days often begin with sunshine, with rain falling for short periods of time in the afternoon and evening.
Temperatures hover around 70 degrees year-round, with warmer temperatures on the coast and cooler temperatures in the mountains. Temperatures on the Pacific Coast will be warmer on average, with daytime temperatures reaching the high 80s and low 90s.
U.S. citizens: Passports are required and must be valid for at least six months beyond the dates of travel. Visas are not required for stays of up to 90 days.
For more information, see travel.state.gov.
Costa Rica uses the colón (CRC). The current exchange rate is 1 USD = 1 CRC. Exchange rates can vary greatly month to month, so we recommend you visit oanda.com for the latest.
We recommend having a variety of payment options readily available to help you start your trip: ATM card(s), credit card(s) and some U.S. dollars to exchange. Always contact your bank or your credit-card company for details on fees and card use when traveling.
No immunizations are required to enter Costa Rica. Always consult a travel clinic at a local university, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, and/or your personal physician for the most up-to-date recommendations and routine vaccinations. Malaria medication, hepatitis, tetanus, typhoid, polio, measles, mumps, and rubella vaccinations are generally recommended for all travelers. For the threat of malaria, you should consult the CDC or your physician for the most current information.
Requirements and recommendations change frequently, so always check directly with the Centers for Disease Control (CDC: cdc.gov/travel; 877-394-8747), a travel clinic, and/or your personal physician for the most current information. Plan ahead for immunizations, as some require administration several months prior to departure.
Personal Safety: Traveling in Costa Rica requires the common sense and exercise of above-normal precautions for personal safety that apply in many countries and cities worldwide; in addition to being aware of your surroundings, keep your valuables close and hidden while in public (avoid dangling cameras or other “tourist bait”), and avoid walking alone at night. Please follow accommodation and/or tour representative guidelines about securing valuables.
Electricity: Alternating current of 120V and 60Hz is used in Costa Rica. Plugs are like those in the United States. For a full listing of electrical outlets worldwide, see electricaloutlet.org. If you are bringing your own hair dryer or other electrical device, you will need a travel converter, available at most hardware, travel, or consumer electronic stores. For laptops or an electronic device with a dual voltage switch, you will only need the adapter plug, not the converter.
Phone: Costa Rica’s country code is “+506.” Cell phone coverage throughout Costa Rica is extensive, but we cannot guarantee adequate signals on all American phone models or while on walking trails or in remote areas. For more information regarding international phone use, please refer to this blog post.
Internet: Internet access is generally very good in towns and villages; however, all of the hotels used on our tours do not necessarily provide it, or they provide it at an additional cost. Details regarding Wi-Fi availability in each hotel are available in the Itinerary Overview that you’ll receive once you’ve reserved.
Costa Rica is in the Central time zone. For more information on worldwide time zones, see: worldtimezone.com.
A wealth of travel information is available at visitcostarica.com.
The vast majority of international flights arrive at the international airport of San José, where there are connecting flights to other Costa Rican destinations. The city of Liberia’s airport also receives flights from the U.S.
International Airports in Costa Rica
- San José – Juan Santamaria International Airport
- Liberia – Daniel Oduber Quirós International Airport
Other local transportation
Traveling from one city or region of Costa Rica to another is easiest by air because of slow driving times. However, in addition to domestic airlines, Costa Rica also has an extensive long-distance bus network; due to the road system, the bus rides can be very long. Most major car rental agencies are available, and again, while distances are great, you may wish to rent a car for a short trip. Taxis are available at all major airports, cities, and in smaller towns, and/or your hotel can usually provide assistance.
For more information, contact Country Walkers.