Costa Rica is bordered to the north by Nicaragua and to the southeast by Panama. It has a Pacific and a Caribbean coastline, separated by a backbone of volcanoes and mountains, an extension of the Andes-Sierra Madre chain, which runs along the western side of the Americas. Lying on the Pacific “Rim of Fire” Costa Rica has seven of the Central American isthmus’s 42 active volcanoes, plus dozens of dormant and extinct cones. The country’s highest point is Mount Chirripo (3820m.). To the northeast of the volcanic highlands the hot, wet Caribbean coast stretches for 212km/131 miles and consists of mangrove swamp and intracoastal waterways. To the west the much more extensive Pacific coast is drier and more rugged, its 1016 km/ 631 miles length composed of rocky headlands, sandy beaches and off-shore islands. This small country, only 51,100 square kilometres/ 19700 square miles in area has a tremendous variety of landscape and tropical habitat giving rise to some of the most varied fauna on the planet. Costa Rica is world renowned for its efforts in conservation and has no less than 36 national parks and wildlife refuges. These, together with buffer zones around the parks account for over 25% of the total land area of the country. The capital, San Jose, lies in the middle of the fertile Central Valley where almost two-thirds of the three and a half million population live.
The time in Costa Rica is GMT -6 hours
Costa Rica is a Spanish speaking country. Many people do speak English and you should not have any difficulty communicating in restaurants etc. However, we do recommend you try to learn some simple Spanish phrases and greetings as attempts to speak in the local language will always be appreciated and is all part of the fun. We also recommend you take a Spanish – English phrasebook with you. (Be sure to select ‘Latin American’ Spanish as pronunciation and vocabulary differs from classic Spanish)
Costa Rica is a tropical country which contains several distinct climatic zones. There is no winter or summer as such and most regions have a rainy season from May to October and a dry season from November to April. There is very little rain during the dry season in the highlands and on the northern Pacific coast. Rainfall is greater on the southern end of the Pacific coast and on the Caribbean coast. Temperature is more a matter of elevation than location, with a mean of around 22 degrees centigrade in the Central Valley and 32 degrees centigrade on the Pacific coast.
The unit of currency in Costa Rica is the Colon. For up to date exchange rates visit: www.xe.com It is not necessary to purchase local currency outside the country. Credit and bank cards can be used to withdraw cash at ATMs in San José and often this is at the most favourable rate of exchange though your bank or credit card company may make a charge for this. Credit cards can also be used at most restaurants in San Jose, and are particularly useful for more expensive souvenirs. If you are bringing your travel money with you, we recommend you carry this in the form of US dollars cash. If for security reasons you prefer to bring travellers cheques, please arrange to have these in US dollars and bring a small amount of cash (small denomination US dollars) which is useful for immediate incidental expenses. US dollars can be used directly to purchase most goods and services in Costa Rica though not necessarily at the most favourable rate of exchange.
Visas are not required by citizens of the United Kingdom or by citizens of most European countries. A passport is required (with 6 months remaining validity).
Please note that if you intend to travel to Costa Rica via the USA you must have a machine readable passport. Even if you are merely in transit through a US airport you will not be allowed to travel if you do not have a machine readable passport. Also note that if you have any convictions (including driving convictions) you cannot enter or transit through the USA without a pre-arranged visa.
You should attend your own doctor and dentist for a check-up. Your doctor will have access to the most up to date information on the required vaccinations for the country you are visiting. In general we recommend vaccinations against the following: Polio, Tetanus, Typhoid, Hepatitis ‘A'. Malaria prophylaxis is recommended for this trip. A very good online resource is the NHS travel website at www.fitfortravel.nhs.uk
Additional Sources of Information
Costa Rica: Lonely Planet. Rachowiecki.
Costa Rica. Fiona Dunlop. AA Explorer Series.
Insight Guide Costa Rica. Harvey Haber
South American Handbook.
Latin America Spanish phrasebook - Lonely Planet.
National Geographic Society. 1:350,000
Lonely Planet - www.lonelplanet.com
Rough Guides - www.roughguides.com