About Costa Rica

About Costa Rica; a magic place in the middle of the America’s; of all of the vacation destinations on the planet, Costa Rica is certainly one of the most exotic, as it offers unparalleled natural beauty, fiery volcanoes, misty cloud forests, thick jungle rain forests, and a wide range of national parks and Eco-tourism activities.

Costa Rica is a small country in Central America with an area of 51,100 km2, its isthmus position meant a biological and cultural bridge that allowed the gathering of forest and animal species, as well as cultures of North and South America. It has 10 wetlands that have been declared Ramsar Sites, 22 National Parks, and 10 Wildlife Refuges, Biological Reserves 12, 8 Forest Reserves, and 26 protected areas covering 25% of the national territory.

In addition, Costa Rica has over 1,000 miles of simply gorgeous white & black sand beaches, plenty of the sunshine, and more than its share of world-class sports fishing, snorkeling, scuba diving, honeymooners, and surfing venues.

The most popular natural attractions include some of the more exotic volcanoes in the world, including the Arenal Volcano, that almost-daily produces a spectacular show of lava, rock, and stream and also the hot springs; the active crater in the Poás Volcano, one of the biggest craters in the world. Enjoy also the tours to the stunning Irazú Volcano; Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve; the Osa Peninsula and the Corcovado National Park, Manuel Antonio National Park and the Caribbean flora and fauna of the Tortuguero National Park and the South Caribbean with his amazing beaches and the Manzanillo National Park and the amazing beaches and national parks of the Guanacaste province.

The single most-visited place in Costa Rica is the capital city of San Jose; it serves as the main entry point into the country, and its mixture of traditional Spanish architecture, museums, and theaters are the first rates. Also is the Daniel Oduber Quirós, located in the flatlands of Guanacaste, close to the most beautiful beaches in the north Pacific. Limon, on the Caribbean coastline, hosts cruise ships from around the world and some fabulous markets and shops along its seawall.

Of all of the countries in Central America, Costa Rica has historically been the friendliest and safest and we don´t have an army since was abolished in 1948.

  • People and Government

    The People (Ticos)

    What makes “Ticos” (Costa Ricans) so different?

    This is a common question. The answer lies in the country’s history and culture. Costa Rica has a mostly peaceful past. From the very beginning, Costa Ricans have been exposed to a little violence. During colonial times, it was one of the few parts of Latin America settled by people more interested in creating a pleasant place to live and start a family than in exploiting the indigenous people and their gold.

    Most “Ticos” are still as warm and friendly as their ancestors. Hospitality, respect, and friendship are enjoyed by visitors. Actually, we are the happiest country in the world!!!

    Where did the word “tico” come from?

    Costa Ricans often use the diminutive form of words to be more courteous or friendly. They use, however, “ico”, instead of the more common “-ito”. Although “-ico” is a correct form of the diminutive, it is rarely used in other Spanish speaking countries. The word “momento” (moment) thus becomes “momentico” (a little moment) and even “momentitico” (a very brief moment). Hence, people from other countries started calling Costa Ricans “Ticos”.

    Government

    Costa Rica is a democratic republic. Under the 1949 constitution, all citizens are guaranteed equality before the law, the right to own property, the right of petition and assembly, freedom of speech and the right of habeas corpus. The constitution also divides the government into independent executive, legislative and judicial branches. The executive branch is composed of the president, two vice presidents, and a cabinet.

    The legislature is the National Assembly, composed of 57 congress members elected by proportional representation. National elections are held every four years, on the first Sunday of February. Under a constitutional amendment enacted in 1969, a president may serve only one four-year term during his lifetime. Congress also are elected for four years and may serve a second term four years after the first ends.

  • Weather in Costa Rica

    Costa Rica is a tropical country, situated between 8° and 11° North latitude, fairly close to the equator. Although in the mountains above 2000 meters you get much cooler temperatures, the average annual temperature lies between 21.7°C (71°F) and 27°C (81°F).  The coolest months are from November through January and the warmest from March through May.

    San José, the capital, where over a third of the population lives, stands at approximately 1170 meters altitude and has a mean annual temperature of 20.6°C (69°F)

    The nation’s climate is classically divided into two major seasons: rainy and dry.

    The dry season runs from January through May and the rainy season from May to November and December.

    Weather in the Caribbean

    The rainy season: from mid to late April and continues through December and sometimes January. Major storms, “Atlantic Storms” between September and February, (rain continuously for several days); but rainy season day will begin clear with a few hours of sunshine that will give way to clouds and rain by the afternoon.

    Driest months of February and March might be almost entirely without rainfall. The best months are July and November, with a dry spell around August or September.

    Weather in the Pacific

    The rainy season begins in May and runs its course until November. Days often begin sunny and pleasant, with rains coming later in the day. Winds coming from the north-east are much reduced in intensity, and storms often come in from the Pacific Ocean in September and October.

    In the northern half of the country, the Pacific slope experiences an intense dry season, in which no rain may fall for several months. The forests of the North-West are to a large extent deciduous, letting their leaves fall in order to conserve water. Winds can be very strong, occasionally reaching speeds of 90 km/hr in the lowlands, although they average more around 20 km/hr.

    Weather in Central Valley

    A Pleasant dry season is matched by moderate temperatures for most of the year and a lower than average amount of rainfall. The southern half of the Pacific slope is much wetter than its northern counterpart, with a shorter dry season and longer and heavier afternoon rains in the wet season.

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  • Local Transportation

    Driving

    Driving in Costa Rica can be a challenge to the newcomer. Until travelers get used to the roads and local driving habits, it is best to avoid driving at night, especially outside the city, never leave anything of value in a parked car (even if it’s in the trunk and the car is locked), and always drive defensively. Hazards include pedestrians, animals on the road, huge potholes, pavement that suddenly ends, unlit vehicles, sudden fog in mountain areas, torrential rains, and reckless drivers.

    To explore Costa Rica in the most adventurous way and with the most freedom, an excellent alternative is to rent a car.

     Internal Flights

    Air travel is a quick and relatively inexpensive way to get around the country. The domestic airline offers daily scheduled Sansa, each one flying to 15 destinations in small propeller aircraft. Charter flights are also available.

    Important Notes:

    The maximum baggage allowance is 25 pounds per person.

    Excess baggage will be additionally charged and subject to space or weight capacity.

    Surfboards will also be charged extra.

    Numerous other companies offer charter flights.

    Charter services with helicopters are also available.

    Red Taxis

    Costa Rican taxis are inexpensive, and most taxi drivers are honest, though of course there are exceptions. By law, they should use a meter (maría) for trips around town, but many don’t. In this case, don’t take the taxi unless you negotiate a reasonable fare before leaving. Many try to charge a surcharge for waiting outside hotels: this is illegal and you should refuse to pay.

    Regular Buses

    Costa Rica’s long-distance bus service radiates from different terminals in San José to towns all over the country. This is an inexpensive way to travel (costing about the U.S. $1-5 per trip), and buses will drop you at intermediate points on request. However, traveling by bus may mean you are limited to visiting only major centers, missing out on less-accessible parks, reserves, beaches, and Eco-tourism projects. Connections can be tricky, as private bus companies operate from different parts of town, and may involve a long walk or taxi ride.

  • Education in Costa Rica

    The education system in Costa Rica consists of three main levels. It is a duty of every citizen and an obligation to receive education; as such it is free and obligatory by law.

    Education in the Costa Rican Constitution:

    The literacy rate in Costa Rica is 96% (CIA World Fact Book, February 2007), one of the highest in Latin America, and both elementary and high schools are found throughout the country in practically every community. This literacy rate is based on “The percentage of people aged 15+ who can, with understanding, both read and write a short, simple statement related to their everyday life (UN Common Database (UNESCO)).”

    According to art. 78 of the Constitution:

    “Preschool education and general basic education are compulsory but not enforced. Though the system is said to be free, many cannot afford the required uniforms and rural schools have no books for students. The length of time daily spent in school is 3.5 hours since the school class schedule is divided into two sessions in order to accommodate the students. These levels and the diversified education level are, in the public system, free and supported by the Nation. Public expenditure in State education, including higher education, shall not be less than six percent (6%) per year of the gross domestic product, in accordance with the law, without detriment to the provisions of Articles 84 and 85 of this Constitution. The State shall facilitate the pursuit of higher studies by persons who lack monetary resources. The Ministry of Public Education, through the organization established by law, shall be in charge of awarding scholarships and assistance.”

    History of education in Costa Rica

    Since 1840, it was clearly expressed in the Constitution and by various presidents, such as Dr. José María Castro Madriz, that education was the means by which the democratic culture would be fostered, and that it was the duty of the state to provide those means.

    The greatest impulse was given under Mauro Fernandez, Minister of Education, in the years 1887 and 1888, in favor of free schooling. Fernandez continued the effort throughout the rest of that century.

    School

    Divided into six-year grades: It covers all the basic knowledge in mathematics, social studies, language (Spanish) and science, as well as some minor topics as music, religion, physical health, and arts

    High School

    There are only a few schools in Costa Rica that go beyond the 12th grade. Those schools that finish in 11th grade receive a Costa Rican Bachelor Diploma accredited by the Costa Rican Ministry of Education. Schools that offer classes to the 12th-grade offer either the International Baccalaureate Diploma, accredited by the IBO in Geneva, Switzerland or USA High School Diploma, accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS).

    University

    It depends on specialty; there are four public universities in Costa Rica and many private institutes and universities.

  • Costa Rica Provinces

    San Jose

    San Jose is the country’s most highly populated province. Located in the Central Plateau, it extends to the northeast, crossing the impressive mountains of the Central Mountain Range, which includes national parks, forest reserves, and fertile lands, with an abundance of coffee plantations.

    San Jose is the country’s most highly populated province. Located in the Central Plateau, it extends to the northeast, crossing the impressive mountains of the Central Mountain Range, which includes national parks, forest reserves, and fertile lands, with an abundance of coffee plantations.

    Costa Rica’s capital, San Jose, is in the Central Valley. It’s an extended plain, guarded by majestic volcanoes and green hills, honoring the natural richness that exists throughout the national territory.

    Founded in the first half of the eighteenth century, San Jose is nowadays a city where visitors of the entire world converge; metropolis full of interesting places, faces, and colors reflecting the history of a population.

    Its architecture is diverse, as may be the people walking its streets. In the north sector of the city, you can find the most refined samples of urban development of the early last century. There are many houses and buildings of European inspiration, built with a profound Costa Rican sense of style.

    Among the most representative places of the city, we can mention the National Theater, Costa Rica’s pride, and historically, house to some of the best artists, national as well as foreign. Inaugurated in 1897, a fruit of the determination of merchants, intellectuals, and politicians, who were able to identify the importance of an opera house could have, to present the best artistic productions in the world.

    Nonetheless, a list of world-class museums, parks, hotels, theaters, and historic buildings, are some other options to be discovered by the thousands of tourists visiting San Jose yearly.


    Cartago

    Also known as the Ancient Metropolis, Cartago was the capital of Costa Rica until 1823, when this title was transferred to the city of San Jose. It is a relatively small province, with barely 3.124 km2 and almost 35 000 inhabitants. It is perhaps Costa Rica’s most important area in matters of colonial art. The best example is the temple of Orosi, dating back to 1743, a historical jewel that was witness to the birth of a nation.

    Cartago has a humid, tropical climate. Its mountain system is made up of two mountain ranges: the Central is where we find the Irazú and Turrialba volcanoes. The Talamanca mountain range is the other great mountain formation of the province. The imposing Cerro Chirripo, the highest point in Costa Rica, is located here, at 3.600 meters above sea level.

    Cartago is a land of traditions and religiosity. To the north, we find the national monument of Guayabo, located on the outskirts of the town of Turrialba. In Guayabo, visitors may admire the enigmatic constructions, dating back to Pre-Colombian times. It’s one of the largest archaeological areas discovered in the country. Mounds, bridges, plazas, and highways, as well as an aqueduct that is still working, are some of the remains of ancient cultures.

    Pilgrimage to Our Lady of the Angels Basilica at the center of the city of Cartago- is the most important religious activity of Costa Rica. Celebrated each August 2nd, here attend millions of people from all around the country.

    Nevertheless, the main attraction of Cartago could be the Irazú volcano, a splendid giant which still remains active, whose five craters gather thousands of tourists yearly. It is the volcano found at the highest altitude in the country, 3.432 meters above sea level. Several rivers nurturing the basins of others, like Chirripo, Reventazón, Sarapiquí, and Grande de Tarcoles are born here.


    Alajuela

    It is one of the most extended provinces of Costa Rica, is known as “The Land of Mangoes”. Its territory spreads to the north, reaching the boundary with Nicaragua. Alajuela was founded in 1782 and gave birth to such famous historical characters like Juan Santamaría, the national hero that burned down the “Meson de Rivas” in 1856.

    This province has an enviable natural richness. Its uneven topography includes the rainforest and exuberant plains to the north. Visitors have a choice of the two most impressive, active volcanoes of the country: Arenal volcano, in the City of San Carlos and the Poás Volcano, at the Central Volcanic Mountain Range. Poás volcano is one of the most splendid volcanoes in Costa Rica, for its beautiful landscape. Around it, you may appreciate different habitats, from the cloud forest to areas of scarce vegetation, where species have become adapted to emissions of gas and the climatic factor characteristic of a volcano.

    The Arenal volcano, on the other hand, with its beautiful conic silhouette, is one of the most active in the world. Its charm is enhanced at night when the color of its eruptions and Lava Rivers can be fully appreciated. Many of the hotels offer a panoramic view of the volcano and its evening show. During the last decades, Alajuela has become an obliged journey for those who love Costa Rica’s natural richness.


    Heredia

    With a territory of 2.656 km2 and a population of 75 000 inhabitants, Heredia is Costa Rica’s smallest province, town appreciated for its colonial heritage and traditional architecture. A great number of adobe houses may be appreciated along with the communities of Barva and Santo Domingo. The city of Heredia, best known as ‘City of the Flowers’, was founded in 1706, pursuant to an initiative of some 150 families dwelling there.

    In Heredia, you still find an important number of coffee plantations, many of which have been adapted to perform guided visits with tourists. It can be delightful to enjoy the captivating process of harvesting, drying, and roasting of coffee beans.

    Among the natural wonders of the province of Heredia, we find Barva volcano, a formidable colossus located at the west part of Braulio Carrillo National Park, which rises 2.906 meters over sea level. The vegetation surrounding this sleeping giant is astonishing; an ideal place for bird watching, especially for those who dream with the magnificent quetzal.

    On the other hand, Braulio Carrillo National Park represents the greatest natural richness near the Central Valley. A tropical rainforest home to hundreds of plant and animal species The dense vegetation of the park safeguards many cascades and rivers, some of which are used in sports adventures. Sarapiquí River is another of the attractions of the province. This imposing river travels through dense vegetation, where birds are abundant and have an ideal current for those who enjoy the rapids, with a moderate degree of difficulty.

    The mountainous areas of Heredia, just before crossing the Central Mountain Range, are characterized by vast extensions of forest and fair climate. Many people choose these green and fresh sites to establish themselves, to live far away from the city crowds.


    Puntarenas

    Known as the “Pearl of the Pacific”, Puntarenas is the largest province of Costa Rica, with an area of 11.276 Km2. Its main attraction is its Pacific coastline, extending over more than 500 miles down to the Panamanian border. This vast province offers a variety of beaches, national parks and natural reserves of extraordinary ecological importance since it is a transition area between the dry tropical lands of Guanacaste and the green forests of the Central Pacific.

    The port of Caldera and the city of Puntarenas, receive hundreds of tourists daily, from countless cruise ships making shore on its coasts. Some of these ships are traveling with the Panama Canal as a destination, which allows passengers to explore Costa Rica’s inland, only to meet their cruise ship some days later at the port of Limon, in the Caribbean.

    Carara’s Biological Reserve constitutes one of the best showcases to the natural heritage of Puntarenas. This reserve includes an extension of 11.600 acres of forests and mangroves. Today, only some portions of the reserve are available to tourists, but professional guides, who are allowed to explore some restricted areas, may be hired.

    Manuel Antonio National Park is another of the destinations of the province of Puntarenas. With its impressive white sand beaches, blue waters of the Pacific, and hundreds of hectares of rainforest, this park is one of the smallest in Costa Rica, but at the same time, one of the most highly visited.

    Manuel Antonio is one of the few places in Costa Rica where the spider monkey still lives. Within the park, you may also find over 100 species of mammals and an equal number of bird types.

    Also belonging to Puntarenas, another feature is the Corcovado National Park -located south, and constituting the habitat of important endemic species such as the gold frog- as well as the Tarcoles River, whose margins are guarded by hundreds of American crocodiles. Good food especially seafood- as well as the well-known carnivals held each summer, and the warmth of its people, are some of the nice surprises expecting tourists visiting this province.


    Guanacaste

    Generous and warm province, Guanacaste is known for its cattle ranching production and spectacular beaches. It is the driest region of Costa Rica, especially the coastal areas. Became part of Costa Rica in 1824; until then, it had remained an independent province. This territory certainly has a very important natural and cultural richness, for Costa Rica’s economy. Some of the best beach hotels in the world are found on the beaches of Guanacaste.

    It is well known for its beaches and the sun, which is exactly what visitors find along its coastline, with an abundance of hotels, cabins, and restaurants. Some are luxury ones, others more modest, but they all guarantee that guests have the perfect option for each budget.

    Panama Beach, in the north area of the province, is one of the good options for tourism. A quiet place with white sand and easy waters, invite you to enjoy a care-free weekend. Coco’s Beach features as one of the most popular spots, due to its nightlife and a great number of visitors; and without having to travel much you can reach Flamingo Beach, an ideal place for those preferring a mix of good hotels and a quiet atmosphere.

    There are also Ocotal and Hermosa beaches, among the favorite of Guanacaste’s coast. Grande Beach is located further south, and along with Las Baulas National Park, it is a sanctuary for thousands of leatherback turtles arriving to spawn in its coasts each year.

    Tamarindo offers a blend of white-sand beaches and mangroves; seabirds and iguanas, making it a paradise and perfect spot for those wishing to live in harmony with nature. Many other beaches along the coast of Guanacaste will complete a matchless natural offer. Carrillo Beach, Ostional Beach, Manzanillo or Coyote, are some of those destinations giving the greatest province of Costa Rica its reputation.

    In Guanacaste you may enjoy delicious food, so characteristic of its people and that with the passage of time became authentic traditional Costa Rican dishes. Santa Rosa National Park is located to the north of the province. It is a jewel of the tropical dry forest, counting with a remarkable biological inventory.

    Likewise, embedded in the Guanacaste Mountain Range, are the Tenorio, Orosi, Miravalles and Rincon de La Vieja volcanoes, the latter surrounded by the national park of the same name. Guanacaste is undoubtedly a privileged land. Possessing a mixture of forests dry and rainy, warm beaches, extended plains, and an impressive volcanic range; a natural world expecting to be explored.


    Limon

    The Caribbean province is a natural paradise, formed by a combination of dense jungles, imposing mountains and beaches. Limon has the highest percentage of protected land in Costa Rica, as well as a wide variety of flora and fauna. The Caribbean province is a natural paradise, formed by a combination of dense jungles, imposing mountains and dream beaches. Limon has the highest percentage of protected land in Costa Rica, as well as a wide variety of flora and fauna. Its vegetation is exuberant, as are the cultures meeting throughout the province.

    The road to Limon from San Jose crosses the majestic Braulio Carrillo National Park. At this point begins a beautiful journey to the lowlands of the Caribbean. A significant change in temperature and landscape can be experienced.

    Perhaps the most exuberant region of Limon is Tortuguero National Park, in the north part of the province. A vast extension of protected land and the most important of the Atlantic coast of the American continent, for the spawning of the green turtle. The city of Limon is the point of arrival for visitors. It is a port, which is essential in Costa Rica’s economic life, and the greatest living example of the multicultural meeting experienced in this region throughout history.

    Traveling south, at an hour’s distance, we find Cahuita, a typical Caribbean villa. This town has become “a must” for tourists, for it represents the essence of a culture, and the beauty of Cahuita National Park, which protects an important expanse of coral reefs. The quiet waters in this spot are a plus for those lovers of snorkeling•. The underwater scenery is marvelous, with a wide chain of coral reefs, composed of different types of coral and occupied by an immense variety of tropical fish.

    Another important point in the Caribbean province is Puerto Viejo, barely 30 minutes from Cahuita. In this town, you can breathe the profound respect for the cultural identity of its people. A combination of music, beaches, and food, so characteristic of the place, are the elements attracting thousands of tourists year by year.

    Along the coastal area, travelers find a good number of options for lodging. The vast majority of hotels and cabins are small and formed of traditional Bungalows, a very particular type of construction of the Caribbean. Gandoca-Manzanillo National Wildlife Refuge is located just at the end of the coastline, almost at the border with Panama. This refuge protects almost 4500 hectares of beaches and sea, for the spawning of 4 species of turtles. In Manzanillo, you may rent kayaks and glide through the gentle mangroves in search of birds and reptiles characteristic of the area.

    The province of Limon possesses a unique culture in Costa Rica, a way of life that may be fully appreciated during the traditional carnivals held each year, an experience of rhythms, and euphoric and captivating colors.