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Known for its spectacular natural beauty and biodiversity, Costa Rica boasts over 15 different ecosystems with dramatic changes in landscapes, climate and nature. Magnificent beaches stretch for miles along an unspoilt coastline. High on the mountains, cool and pristine cloud forests are alive with mysterious sounds and below splendid tropical rain forests are packed with life.
The country is famous for its progressive approach to conservation and is the prime eco-tourism destination in Central America due to its wealth of protected areas. Over 25 percent of the country consists of protected areas, spread between 75 different national parks, wildlife refuges and biological reserves.
In such a small geographical area it is surprising how much there is to see and do. A holiday in Costa Rica offers activities to suit all travellers and any mood, from action to relaxation. These include surfing, snorkelling and sunbathing, horse riding, hiking and wildlife-spotting, deep sea fishing or river cruises. One can also simply enjoy a soak in the hot springs.
Travellers are also drawn to the country because of the endearing Tico hospitality. Costa Ricans are known for their incredible gregariousness and delightful ability to pamper guests - whether pointing out the right direction or cooking a typical authentic meal, they will be full of smiles and warmth. All this together with easy accessibility and an efficient infrastructure makes Costa Rica the jewel of Central America and a gem of a vacation destination.
Costa Rica has a formal business environment, where men and women wear conservative suits, appointments are made and meetings begin on time. Business projects can be slow, however, as Costa Ricans are conservative in their approach to new ideas and keen to avoid risk. Spanish is the main language, but most business people speak English; however it is polite to have business cards as well as other promotional material printed in both English and Spanish. A lot of women have high profile jobs, although of machismo still exists. Visiting businesswomen will be treated with respect once their ability and authority is clearly established. Hours of business are generally 8am to 4pm Monday to Friday with a two-hour lunch break from 12pm.
Being tropical, there is little difference in temperature throughout the year, but there is a lot of rainfall, particularly from May to November. Temperatures along the coast are hotter, averaging 89ºF (32ºC), although they are tempered down by sea breezes. The highland areas are warm during the day and can be quite cool at night.
The international access code for Costa Rica is +506. The outgoing code is 00 followed by the relevant country code (e.g. 0044 for the United Kingdom). City codes are not required. Costa Rica has one of the most advanced telecommunications systems in Latin America. The cheapest way to phone internationally is a direct call using a phone card. Mobile phone operators use GSM 1800 networks. Internet cafes are available in the main towns.
Costa Ricans are conservative when it comes to family values, and roles between male and female are expected to be traditional. 'Machismo' is a key characteristic of Costa Rica culture, although women are quickly becoming more empowered in Tico society. The population is largely middle-class, Catholic and ethnically homegenous.
Travellers to Costa Rica over 18 years do not have to pay duty on 3 litres of alcohol; 500g of tobacco or 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars. Perfume for personal use is allowed provided it is a reasonable quantity.
Electrical current is 120 volts, 60Hz. Flat two-pin plugs and three-pin (two flat blades with round grounding pin) plugs are in use.
There are no vaccination requirements for Costa Rica. There is a risk of malaria in some areas year-round and advice should be taken on precautions and medication. Water in cities is generally safe but it is advisable to buy bottled water, especially outside the main towns where there is a risk of contamination. Dengue fever is one of a number of diseases carried by insects that also occur in this region, especially during the rainy season; protection against insect bites is the best prevention. Medical services are reliable in cities and the standard of hygiene and treatment is very high.
Spanish is the official language, but English is widely spoken.
The Costa Rican Colón (CRC) is divided into 100 céntimos and is the official currency, although US Dollars are also widely accepted. US Dollars and travellers cheques can be exchanged in banks and many hotels. Banks charge a service fee for cashing travellers cheques and currency other than US$ is difficult to exchange. Using black market exchange options is risky as they have been known to pass on counterfeit bills printed in Colombia. Banks close anywhere from 3pm to 6pm. Major credit cards are widely accepted, although American Express and Diners Club might be more limited. ATMs are available in major towns throughout the country, but it is advisable to always have some local cash handy.
All foreign passengers to Costa Rica must have return/onward tickets and the necessary travel documentation for their next destination, and proof of sufficient funds to cover their stay in the country. Note: an onward ticket may be a bus or a plane ticket. Extensions of stay for those who are visa-exempt can be arranged on arrival. Note that a yellow fever vaccination certificate is required, if arriving in Costa Rica within six days of leaving or transiting through one of the following countries: Angola, Benin, Bolivia, Brazil, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Colombia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ecuador, French Guiana, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, Peru, Sierra Leone, Sudan or Venezuela. NOTE: It is highly recommended that your passport has at least six months validity remaining after your intended date of departure from your travel destination. Immigration officials often apply different rules to those stated by travel agents and official sources.
There is no history of terrorism in Costa Rica, however there are incidents of violent crime, occasionally targeting tourists. There has been an increase in attacks on tourists leaving the airport in hired cars in San Jose. Belongings should be watched carefully at all times and in all places, particularly in bus stations and on public transport. Theft of, and from, cars is common. Do not wear jewellery or carry large amounts of cash and avoid moneychangers on the street. Strikes, protests and blockades have recently taken place without warning and further demonstrations could disrupt travel on main roads, particularly those connecting San Jose with the coast.
Local time is GMT -6.
Hotels add a 10% service charge plus a 3% tourist tax to their bills by law. In tourist and upmarket restaurants a tip of 10% is usual, however some establishments already include a 17% sales and service tax in the bill. Taxi drivers are not normally tipped, but tour guides are. In general if service has been particularly good service staff appreciate a 5 to 10% tip.