Overview: Costa Rica is an amazing place located in the heart of Central America that is both politically and economically stable (home to the oldest democracy in the Americas) as well as extremely safe and secure (with the U.S. Government calling it a “Central American Success Story” and CNN Travel saying that it has for “decades been considered the safest place in Central America.”). While other Latin countries were having conflicts in the 1980s, the president of Costa Rica received the Nobel Peace Prize for helping bring the violence to an end.

Costa Rica does not maintain an army and has one of the highest literacy rates in the world. Costa Rica is also home to a number of large corporations including Intel but it’s number one industry is still tourism (capitalizing on both its diverse plant and animal life as well as the superb infrastructure in place for accommodations and adventure). It is little wonder why Costa Rica has become the hottest new travel destination for tourists as well as the place where many are buying homes.

Basic Information:
Name: Republic of Costa Rica
Location: Central American between Panama and Nicaragua
Capital: San Jose
Area: 51,000 km sq. (about the size of the US state of West Virginia)
Population: 4 million (2006 estimation)
Literacy Rate: 96%
Language: Spanish with English spoken by most professionals and Tourist locations.
Principal industries: Tourism, coffee, bananas
Currency: Colon. Coins are denominated at 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500, with bills denominated at 1,000 – 2,000 – 5,000 – 10,000. The exchange rate changes on a daily basis, but is approximately 521 Colons to the American Dollar.

Climate: Costa Rica is a year round destination with pleasant temperatures throughout the year. The major difference in weather through the year is the amount of rainfall. The country has two basic “zones” for rainfall, the Caribbean Coast and everywhere else. On the Caribbean side you can expect rain throughout the year although there is a relative dry period in March and September. For the rest of the country (the Vast majority), the “green” season is comparable to rainfall in Orlando, Florida during the same period with afternoon showers not being uncommon (although there can also be several days of rain or sun). Regardless of the weather, there is always lots of things to do and many people prefer the “green” season because of the lower prices and greater availability of accommodations. The average Temperature through the year in San Jose is 72 with the coasts getting into the 80s and 90s and the high mountains in the 50s and 60s.

Travel Requirements: Passports are required for all visitors. Though it is a good idea to check with the Costa Rican consulate about your countries requirements.

Currency: Colon. No sub-divisions of the Colon. Coins are denominated at 10, 20, 50, 100 and 500, with bills denominated at 1,000 – 2,000 – 5,000 – 10,000. The exchange rate changes on a daily basis, but it is approximately 500 Colons to the American Dollar. To check the current exchange rate click here Banco de Costa Rica.
The American dollar as well as major credit cards are normally accepted at most places except in very small towns or remote areas. You can exchange dollars at banks (expect to wait), most hotels, and casinos.
ATMs: ATMs are readily available in all cities and most towns of any size. Many ATMs allow you to withdraw either Colons or American Dollars.
Credit Card: Some hotels and most Casinos will allow you to get cash using your credit card.

Western Union: You can transfer money from the US to Costa Rica in 15 minutes or less and can even be done via the Internet. Fees depend on the amount transferred and can be collected at a number of locations including Mas x Menos Grocery stores.
Inter-bank transfers are possible but usually take longer to process and are more difficult to obtain. Fees also depend on the amount and the bank used. Users of this service will have to provide a routing number of the Costa Rican bank to which the money is going to be sent, but no pre-existing account is necessary

What to Bring: When packing for your trip to Costa Rica, keep in mind the climate is moderate. Tee shirts, shorts, lightweight clothes (cotton is best), light jacket or sweater, rain gear, bug spray, comfortable shoes (hiking boots or tennis shoes with plenty of tread), sun hat, swimsuit, beach towel, camera with plenty of film and binoculars (if you have them).

Medical: No vaccinations are required, but remember to bring extra: prescription drugs, allergy medication, aspirin, Tylenol, antacid tablets, and diarrhea medicine. Generally, it is recommended to drink bottled water. It is highly recommended that you buy health insurance from an agent in your country. Emergency medical care is provided to visitors at all medical facilities throughout the country, though can be costly.

Crime: Costa Rican’s is a relatively safe place but, like most places in the world, have people who will take advantage if given the chance. Use hotel safes to store cash and valuables, carry small denomination bills to pay, and guard your valuables in any public place. Also, minimize the amount of cash that you have and do not carry large amounts of cash on your person. Keep in mind in Costa Rica is that local pay scales are substantially lower than other parts of the world, so what may not seem like a lot of money to you may be to someone there. Above all, use the same common sense and you should be fine. It is highly recommended that you photocopy your passport, lock away your passport and at all times carry the photocopy.

Communications: Costa Rica has an overall good communication system including both landline phones, cellular phones (TDMA and GSM), and Internet via DSL, Cable Modem, and Satellite. Cellular phones from other countries will typically not work in Costa Rica. Pay phones are available throughout the country and may accept coins or, in many cases, only telephone cards. Phone cards can be purchased at most pharmacies (farmacias) and hotels as well as other locations. Internet is available at most hotels located in cities or larger towns and also at Internet Cafes throughout the country. Many Internet Cafes also have phone service to the US at better prices.

Political: Costa Rica has the oldest democracy in the Americas and is divided into six “states” including Alajuela, Cartago, Guanacaste, Heredia, Limon, Puntarenas, and San Jose. Costa Rica uses a three branch form of government that operates similarly to the United States that includes an Executive Branch (president & vice-president elected together by popular vote every 4 years), Legislative Branch (Only one assembly with 57 seats elected by popular vote to 4 year terms), and Judicial Branch (Supreme Court has 22 judges that are elected to 8 years terms by the legislative branch).