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Green and serene - from verdant cloud forests to jungle-fringed beaches, Costa Rica is a little slice of paradise

Bordering Panama below and Nicaragua above, Costa Rica sits on the long, thin arm of Central America that connects north to south. Blessed with both wild Pacific beaches and gentle Caribbean sands, this diminutive country is certain to have a beach to suit your tastes, from silvery and secluded, to golden and palm-fringed.

In-between its generous coastlines you’ll find an interior dedicated nigh on exclusively to national parkland and wildlife refuges. Lush jungles are home to an infinite variety of animals, from hummingbirds and sloths to brightly coloured tree frogs and butterflies.

The people of Costa Rica have a relaxed and easy charm and tend to live life to the tune of the well-used phrase pura vida, loosely translated as pure life.

Sounds pretty good, doesn’t it?

 

Culture and history

With a large shot of Spanish culture, a splash of Jamaican and a twist of African and Chinese, Costa Rica is a colourful and refreshing destination. Polite and proud, Costa Ricans have had more than a century of democratic tradition and more than 50 years without a military. That was abolished in 1948, and the money the country saves from not having armed forces is invested in improving the quality of life of its citizens.

Men are not shy in showing their appreciation of women, so ladies, if a man stares at you, whistles or tries to chat you up, take it as a compliment! In Costa Rica, citizens aged 65 and over are referred to as ‘ciudadanos de oro’, or ‘golden citizens’, and are treated with great respect. Should you be lucky enough to qualify, don’t be surprised if you are offered a seat on a full bus or allowed to jump a long queue.

Unlike many of its neighbours, Costa Rica has managed to maintain a relatively peaceful and untroubled past. This rich, rainforest covered region of Central America was once home to tribes living off of the land and of whom which little is known.

With the arrival of Christopher Columbus at the beginning of the 16th century, life in Costa Rica changed. Columbus liked what he saw, namely rather a lot of gold, and dubbed the Caribbean coast he landed on the ‘rich coast’ – Costa Rica. As it turned out Costa Rica wasn’t as abundant in gold as the Spanish first thought, but none the less they went on to claim it as their own.

The indigenous population fell dramatically over the centuries, mainly due to disease. When Mexico declared independence in the early 19th century, it did so for the rest of Central America too. The other countries in the region then declared their own independence from Mexico. In Costa Rica there was a short civil war with the liberals triumphing and taking power.

Soon after, the lucrative coffee trade was discovered and developed, making Costa Rica the wealthiest country in the region. Next came the banana – another golden opportunity for export trade. So, as it turns out, Columbus was in fact right on the money when he coined the name Costa Rica all those centuries before.

Things to do

On our all-inclusive holidays to Costa Rica, you’ll revel in the country’s unique wildlife and stunning national parks. Take a panoramic tour through the countryside, peer into the vast crater of Poás Volcano and enjoy a leisurely boat ride along the Tarcoles River in search of crocodiles.

Fly through the rainforest treetops on a sky tram, spot the brilliantly-coloured scarlet macaw and shop in the vibrant street markets of San Jose. Cruise ship enthusiasts can visit Costa Rica on one of several different ocean-bound adventures.

For example, book our North America cruise and travel down the Pacific Coast from LA, to Mexico and Costa Rica, before navigating through the Panama Canal and out into the Caribbean.

San José

With its eponymous capital city, San José is where most travellers will enter the country. The lovely colonial city centre in well worth exploring, and don’t miss a visit to the dazzling Pre-Columbian Gold Museum. Elsewhere in this region you’ll find the Talamanca Mountains and, of course, several national parks.

Alajuela

This landlocked province borders Nicaragua to the north and San José to the south. Here you’ll find the sublime cloud forests of Monteverde, the smoky Poás Volcano, and the hot springs of Arenal near La Fortuna.

The Pacific coast

The long, meandering coastlines of Guanacaste and Puntarenas provinces offer up many a beautiful bay and deserted beach – head to the Nicoya Peninsula for some of the wildest. The Manuel Antonio National Park is one of the country’s loveliest, with its sandy coastline and rainforest habitat home to a kaleidoscope of colourful wildlife, from capuchin monkeys and toucans to the rare three-toed sloth.

The Caribbean Coast

This region of Costa Rica has a different feel to the rest of the country, with its mix of West Indian immigrants and indigenous peoples. Head to Tortuguero National Park to visit the sea turtles, to Chirripó for volcanic vistas and to Cahuito for the coral reefs. The biggest city on the Caribbean coast is the busy working port of Limón.

Flight time

Sit back and relax: it takes about eleven and a half hours to fly from the UK to Costa Rica.

Currency

Colon -

The currency in Costa Rica is the colon. The colon has notes in denominations of 50,000, 20,000, 10,000, 5,000, 2,000 and 1,000 colones. Coins are issued for 500, 100, 50, 25, 20, 10 and 5 colones.

It’s a good idea to bring low-denomination US notes also: sterling isn’t easily exchanged so leave it at home. Larger retailers accept major credit cards.

Travellers cheques are difficult to cash and are becoming less widely accepted, so it’s best not to bring these at all.

Passports and visas

It’s a good idea to carry a photocopy of your passport. UK citizens can stay in the country for up to 90 days without requiring a visa.

Visit GOV.UK for more advice on passports and visas.

Phrases

Hello – Hola!

Good morning – Buenos dias

Good afternoon/evening – Buenas tardes

Good night – Buenas noches

Goodbye – Adios

Thank you – Gracias

This gentleman/lady will pay for everything – Este hombre/caballero pagará por todo – Esta mujer/dame pagará por todo

Timezone

Costa Rica is six hours behind GMT (seven from April to October).

Electricity

Most sockets take the standard North American-style flat two-pin plugs so an adaptor is needed for British electrical appliances.

You’re unlikely to find one in Costa Rica so bring one with you.

Language

Spanish; Castilian -

The official language is Spanish, and the Costa Ricans claim that they speak the purest Spanish in Latin America!

A uniquely Costa Rican greeting is ‘pura vida’, which translates as ‘pure life’ and means ‘going great’.

Tipping

An important part of the culture in Costa Rica, tipping is usually expected and always appreciated. You should give the porter around $1 per bag and the maid around $2 a day: it’s a good idea to leave your largest tip on the first day to guarantee first-class service!

As for taxi drivers, you should round up the fare to the nearest dollar. However, if you are on a long journey or the traffic is bad, you should leave a little more.

Climate

Despite its small size, Costa Rice has a variety of microclimates, which makes it difficult to typify the weather.

It’s a tropical country so expect rain, especially between May and November.

March through to May are usually the hottest months and the average annual temperature is between 21 ºC and 27 ºC.

Health

As health information can change at any time, we’d advise you to consult your GP at least 12 weeks before departure.

Country-specific information and advice on possible health risks is also published by the National Travel Health Network and Centre, and The British Foreign and Commonwealth Travel Advice Unit provides important health and safety information for British nationals travelling abroad.

Population and size

The population of Costa Rica is just over four-and-a-half million, which is about the same number as Ireland.

Subject to planning permission, you could fit Costa Rica into the UK five times over.

Smoking

Smoking is banned in all public spaces, including bars and restaurants.



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