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.
The Costa Rican ColÃ³n (CRC) is divided into 100
cÃ©ntimos 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.
|CRC 1 =||US$ 0.19||Â£ 0.13||C$ 0.20||A$ 0.19||R 1.65||EUR 0.15||NZ$ 0.25|
Note: These currency exchange rates are not updated daily and should be used as a guideline only.
There are no vaccination requirements for Costa Rica. As a precaution, vaccinations for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid, MMR (measles, mumps, rubella) and tetanus-diphtheria (every 10 years) are recommended for travel to Costa Rica. There is a risk of malaria in some areas of Costa Rica year-round and advice should be taken on which areas are currently risky and what precautions and medication you should take to protect against the disease. 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.
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 any yellow fever risk areas. 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.
Note: Passport and visa requirements are liable to change at short notice. Travellers are advised to check their entry requirements with their embassy or consulate.
Costa Rica Tourism
Costa Rica Tourism Board, San Jose: +506 223 1733 or www.visitcostarica.com
Foreign Embassies in Costa Rica
United States Embassy, San Jose: +506 2519 2000.
British Embassy, San Jose: +506 2258 2025.
Canadian Embassy, San Jose (also responsible for Australia): +506 2242 4400.
South African Consulate-General, San Jose: +506 2222 1470
Costa Rica Embassies
Embassy of Costa Rica, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 499 2991.
Embassy of Costa Rica, London, United Kingdom: +44 (0)20 7706 8844.
Embassy of Costa Rica, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 562 2855.
Honorary Consulate of Costa Rica, Johannesburg, South Africa: +27 (0)11 486 4716.
The Northwestern region of Costa Rica is renowned for its dramatic contrast in topography. Mountain ranges, volcanoes, lakes, rivers and fertile plains support numerous varieties of bird and wildlife, and each offers different types of activities. This variety of things to see and do is a big draw for the region and visitors come to hike, kayak, horse ride, fish and climb, among other things. The two Cordilleras, or mountain ranges, are very different from each other. The Cordillera TilarÃ¡n has rolling mountains that used to be covered in cloud forests; those remaining are protected reserves of which the Monteverde Cloud Forest Biological Reserve is the most popular with visitors, offering nature trails, horse riding and canopy tours. The Cordillera de Guanacaste is a rugged and impressive string of volcanoes, some protected within national parks. Between the ranges are Lake Arenal and the nearby active Arenal Volcano and surrounding hot springs. Further north, in the tropical humidity of the lowland plains, lies the remote wildlife refuge of CaÃ±o Negro, a vast wetlands area that is one of the best places in the Americas to see river wildlife, including numerous birds, mammals and reptiles. The fertile plains are dotted with a mixture of agricultural fields, cattle ranches and expanses of protected areas serviced by a maze of streams and rivers.
The Pacific is more developed for tourism than the Caribbean, but it still holds a good mixture of luxury resorts and deserted beaches. Some of the Costa Rica's best beaches are in this region. Costa Ricans use the perfectly suited phrase 'pura vida', meaning 'pure life', to describe the country and examples of this are evident everywhere along the Pacific coastline.
Strung along the coast are scores of seaside villages and picturesque towns, exotic beaches and several protected reserves or national parks. Visitors will find an abundance of accommodation, seafood and local souvenirs. Puntarenas is the largest town and was the main port, but is now mainly used as a base to catch ferries to the Nicoya Peninsula. Further south, the Tarcoles bridge is a renowned spot for watching the alligators in the river below. Package-holiday tourists stream to the beach resort town of JacÃ³, one of the best places to surf and with a reputation for being a party town. There is plenty of accommodation and restaurants as well as a lively night scene after a relaxing day on the beach.
There are many activities in the area including surfing, kayaking and swimming in the azure waters of the pacific. There is also hiking, birding and wildlife-spotting in the forests of the national parks as well as beach walks, volleyball and horseriding. Beautiful parks like Manuel Antonio National Park and Absoluta Cabo Blanco Nature Reserve have pristine white beaches as well as birds and animal life. The tiny fishing hamlet of Montezuma near the entrance to Cabo Blanco is surrounded by pretty coves and is a relaxed place to hang out for a few days.
The Caribbean has a cultural diversity that is different from the rest of the Costa Rica. With its beautiful beaches, great surfing conditions and pristine national parks the Caribbean coastline of the country is becoming one of the top attractions for the adventurous traveller. It is less developed than the Pacific side, with fewer roads and smaller settlements, and about half the area is set apart and protected in parks and wildlife refuges.
The capital of the region is the seedy port of Limon, which is generally avoided by tourists and used only as a transport hub, but is regaining popularity as a cruise port. Cahuita is a relaxed village neighbouring the Cahuita National Park, and here the Creole culture is particularly evident in the food and music. Further south is the even more tranquil hamlet of Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, popular for its surfing and splendid coastline. In the north the coastal National Park of Tortuguero is one of the most important breeding and nesting sites of the green sea turtle.
The villages are laid back with an unhurried atmosphere common throughout the region. The majority of the people are extremely friendly, live close to the coast and speak a lively form of English. The people of the Caribbean delight in showing visitors the natural beauty of the area and are eager to share their culture with anyone willing to 'hang out' for a while. There is plenty to see and do, but things are relaxed so take time to experience this rewarding side of Costa Rica.
At first glance it may appear derelict and rather unsavoury, but this is mainly because Puerto Limon was badly affected by an earthquake in 1991 from which it has never recovered. The friendly, welcoming people of this Caribbean port city, however, are proud of what they still have to offer tourists who visit the city, not so much for its sights but for its proximity to some of Costa Rica's top natural attractions.
Many cruise liners lay over in the port to allow passengers the chance to take excursions, and independent travellers come here from San Jose, along the scenic Guapiles Highway, to use Puerto Limon as a base for exploring the coast.
It was once a port of some importance, exporting bananas and grain to various parts of the world, but today Puerto Limon is commercially a little bereft, the focus having moved to Moin, a port about four miles (6km) to the north. The city itself, however, still sports some pretty, if run-down, buildings. One of its biggest draws is the market in the centre of town, selling everything from woodcarvings to cashew nut wine.
Just south of the city is the popular and beautiful beach of Playa Bonita, easily accessible by taxi or bus, and inland there are myriad scenic excursions to be made to appreciate the volcanoes, lush valleys, tropical rainforests and national parks.
From Puerto Limon do-it-yourself tourists or cruise ship passengers can organize trips to ride an aerial tram across the rain forest canopy in the Braulio Carrillo National Park, or travel to Costa Rica's capital, San Jose, passing through some incredible, exotic scenery en route. The more active can opt for white-water rafting on the Reventazon River, or a horseback trek from a nearby ranch through the jungle. One of the most popular outings is a boat trip up the Tortuguero Canal, which runs parallel to the coastline from Puerto Limon to the Nicaraguan border, affording the chance to enjoy some spectacular scenery and get close to a variety of wildlife.
The capital of Costa Rica, San Jose loses many tourists to the beauty of the country's jungles and beaches. Those who venture to the urban heart of Costa Rica though, will find a lively city of more than 300,000 people that offers the best selection of shops, restaurants and nightlife in Costa Rica.
San Jose is a modern city, but tourists will want to head to pretty colonial areas like Barria Amon and the bustling Mercado Central for a sense of the city's culture and history. A number of museums dedicated to gold mining, pre-Colombian jade, contemporary art and even insects will teach visitors of all ages about Central America, and the large selection of restaurants serving delicious local cuisine will give you the energy to see them all.
Although there are plenty of things to see and do in San Jose, the city's location in the middle of the country makes it ideally situated as a base to explore the natural attractions of central Costa Rica. Manuel Antonio National Park, Fortuna, and the TilarÃ¡n mountain range are all within three to four hours' drive of the city. Public transport in Costa Rica also uses San Jose as a hub, making it a convenient stop on any holiday.
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